Speaking on a Voice of Nigeria (VON) radio programme, recently, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, said that plans have reached an advanced stage on how to open up the space for sports to return after nearly four months lockdown.
The minister however insisted that non-combat sports like table tennis, tennis, badminton and track & field will be amongst the first set to return from the Covid-19 lockdown restriction of sporting activities.
This is obviously a welcome development especially as regards to the 20th National Sports Festival, which was earlier scheduled to hold between late March and early April in Benin City, Edo State. Although a new date and guideline that’s in-line with Covid-19 protocols, has been recommended to the Sport Minister by Chief Tonobok Okowa-led committee, it is ideal that we look at organizations across the world to pick some of their best practices.
As most countries across the globe begin to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and slowly move through the phases towards the ‘new norm’, the time is gradually starting to arrive when spectators are allowed back into sports stadiums.
Spectators could be allowed back into sporting events in England on 1 October provided a series of test events pass by successfully in the coming weeks.
Gatherings of more than 30 people have been banned in England since lockdown measures were introduced in March to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing today (Friday), UK prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We will pilot larger gatherings in venues such as sports stadia with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.
“From October we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and allow conferences and other business events to recommence.”
The government indicated it would allow limited numbers of spectators into the test events to develop a framework for their more widespread return across the country.
The test events will include the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield from July 31 to August 16, the Glorious Goodwood racing festival from July 28 to August 1, and two county cricket friendlies, one of which is likely to be Surrey v Middlesex at the Oval from July 26-27.
Johnson stressed that the test events would need to be delivered in a Covid-secure way and said they had been “carefully selected to represent a range of sports and indoor and outdoor spectator environments”.
The test events will be expected to provide clear information on the Covid-mitigation steps they have taken and a code of behaviour for fans. They will also be expected to provide alternatives to public transport to travel to match venues and additional hygiene facilities.
It is expected audience capacities will be restricted at the test events with seating carefully controlled to observe social distancing rules. This is also likely to be the case for the full return of spectators in October, should the test events pass without any hitch. However, the UK government has also revealed it could remove the requirement to socially distance altogether by November, if the virus is under control at that stage.
The Lega Serie A are pushing to have a at least season ticket holders enter the stadium during the final weeks of this season or September at the least.
“It’s true that there will be conditions to allow a limited number of fans to enter the stadiums, but the danger would be to allow 10,000 or 12,000 spectators to enter in the same place,” said Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora.
“It would be necessary to understand how to manage this flow. We are now a bit more than two weeks away from the end of the championship and it would be difficult to organise this together with the Federation and the Leagues.
“My commitment is to implement this plan for September.”
In the USA
The World Team Tennis mixed tennis tournament, scheduled for July in West Virginia, will allow up to 500 fans in accordance to health guidelines, which represents 20 per cent of the 2,500-seat outdoor tennis stadium, at The Greenbrier.
WTT is poised to follow in the footsteps of Professional Bull Riders, which had a little more than a thousand fans on hand in a 9,000-seat arena in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The event was one of the first professional sporting events that allowed live crowd, since the coronavirus began.
The WTT tournament, however, involves many more participants and will take place over a far longer time period, which will require greater testing and screening for coronavirus for its competitors, staff members, media, and spectators.
A growing number of states, such as Texas, are beginning to allow spectators at sporting events in the coming weeks and months. As such, many eyes are expected to be on The Greenbrier as sports organisations look to adopt best practices.
The Hungary’s top-tier football league, the Nemzeti Bajnokság, returned in May 30, with strict government social distancing regulations that allowed for no more than one seat in four was occupied by fans while a reduced production set-up with no cameras allowed alongside the field of play in venues.
Let me also use this opportunity to commend the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) club owners for voting to end this season’s league campaign. It was a well-thought-out decision in the face of this novel coronavirus pandemic and it lessens the burden of state administrators in hosting the matches on a weekly basis.
However, from all indication, the virus is here to stay and there is a need to skirt through this pandemic now rather than later.
Proper planning for the upcoming season (not limited to only the NPFL) especially as regards following the COVID-19 protocol, should include;
i. Players, referees and officials are constantly tested 72-hours before a match
ii. Cameramen are prohibited from entering the field, track, mat or circuit during games.
iii. Handwashing equipment should be in strategic locations around the stadium and training pitches,
iv. Fans are given information education and communication material on signs, symptoms and prevention of COVID-19 and proper use and care of face masks,
v. Equipping of sick bays and the orientation of health workers on how to manage crisis,
vi. Provide a toll-free line that links to sick bay or holdout camps
vii. Orientation of protocol officers in ensuring social distance is maintained if we choose to allow few fans into the stadium.
viii. Adequate funding should be in place to aid retrofitting and procurement of the above.