Unlocking Sports In Covid-19 Lockdown

By: Dr. Meenakshi Tripathi,  Sr. Associate Editor-ICN Sports

Covid 19 pandemic has caused the hardest impact on sports ever witnessed in centuries. Never in the past the several mega sport events in the world were either postponed or cancelled.

Globally 2020 will be remembered as a dark year in the history of sports. Even during World War II some events were suspended but few events like the U.S Open and cricket in India continued without disruption. Amid numerous catastrophes, the sports industry was always scaling upwards making new records.

In 2018 the estimated global value of the sports industry was $471bn which was almost double since 2011. In India, the sports industry grew at 17% and sponsorship to Rs. 9000 crores in 2019. Khelo India and Fit India movement Initiatives drove India towards an emerging sporting nation. And today, sports have been impacted at every level from athletes, teams and leagues, management, advertising, journalism and broadcasting.

Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event which is most awaited and most watched globally has been pushed one year away. FIFA has postponed, U-17 women’s Football world cup scheduled in November till further information. Badminton World Federation has postponed all the events of the calendar till further information. In Lawn tennis, Wimbledon has been called off and French open has been postponed. In Wrestling China, Turkmenistan and North Korea withdrew their names in Asian championships held in Indian during February 2020 and Asian Olympic qualifying events were postponed. Asia-Oceania Olympic qualifiers in Boxing had to relocate their venue from Wuhan, China to Amman in Jordan, Indian Boxers were the first bunch of athletes who were quarantined after their arrival back in India in march.

Athlete’s physical and emotional well being

Due to restrictions of access to training venues, during lockdown there is a descending trajectory of the athlete’s overall fitness, Vo2 max level, blood pressure, immunity, and always engulfing fear of losing their performance. Even the spectators and Fans have an impact on professionals. Fans may not impact physical performance directly, but they do help to enhance sports professional psyche and emotions. Also, restrictions on travel, tournament organisation and mass gatherings during pandemic have had major implications on mental and emotional aspects of athletes resulting in increased stress and anxiety.

Economics of Sports

Covid-19 pandemic caused most of the tournaments cancellation, resulting in huge financial losses to organisers and sports professionals. IPL cancellation will cost BCCI, tournament’s broadcasters and the franchises an estimated 3500 crores. IPL franchises hire around 600 people, including freelancers and people on the payroll, with this their jobs will be impacted. Cricket Australia will lose an estimated $174 million, if the most awaited cricket tournament does not fall in place. In these circumstances BCCI being the affluent body might be relatively better placed but some other cricket boards could face challenges if their related media contracts are not renewed. Similarly, in other sporting events bigger tournaments like NBA, FIFA, major clubs and franchises may sustain this loss but others may perish with the flow.

Media and Broadcasting

The key revenue generation for sports bodies is through licensing of television broadcast.

Since there are no tournaments hence there is almost zero content for sports media coverage. Subsequently many brands advertising campaigns have been cancelled resulting in big income loss to the media.

Managing closed stadiums

Italy is one among the hardest hit European Nations by the Covid-19 cases. The Valencia FC-Atalanta champions League tie held in San Siro is believed to be one of the major reasons for outbreak of pandemic in Italy. Owing to increasing cases of Covid-19 around the globe almost all stadiums are closed. Revenues from visitors, shops. museums, ticket sales are lost. Organisers are grappling to sustain the monetary requisites to maintain the sports facilities, stadiums and save employees jobs.

Social Impact

Social distancing being the basic requisite during Covid-19, people of all age groups have cooped up in homes, hence reducing social cohesion. On the contrary man by nature is a social animal. Sports provide opportunities for social interaction through which he develops the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for his full participation in civil society. Sports also provided an opportunity to socialise and entertain spectators, be it in the stadium or with new technological advances with life like screening at home. In the absence of events the spectators are unable to fill this void, impacting socially and emotionally.

Nationalism and International harmony

Sports is inseparably weaved with national pride and International prestige. It enriches national pride thereby creating an indispensable role in nation building. It also channelizes the International harmony through periodical tournaments, where we celebrate our similarities and differences. In world politics it can have phenomenal effects on building relations. In the cold war era United States president Richard Nixon used “ping pong Diplomacy” to actuate the diplomatic relations with China. Sports also help promote peace in international relations. Also, many countries have utilised sports as a tool to build a positive image. In the absence of international events, relations between nations are taking its toll.

Sports-Path forward in Covid-19

Recently Mr. Rijiju, Minister of Sports and Youth affairs said “We have to learn to live with the situation where sporting events will have to be carried forward without spectators in stadiums and sports venues”

Technological advancements would be of great help here for revenue and engagement of spectators with players. Sports leagues are using Esports to maintain interest and sense of competition during lockdown.

For sports events in the stadium, innovative technologies may be used for player’s motivation, like the Japanese company Yamaha, tested a remote cheering system in Japan’s ECOPA Stadium, where the technology allows fans to watch sports at home and use microphone or smartphone to cheer their favourites. These sounds are sent real time to speakers in the stadium.

Use of Machines and Artificial Intelligence can play a major role as these will enable safe practices in Covid-19 pandemic. Use of Bowling machines in Cricket may become standard. Artificial Intelligence may help do many backend jobs, where people are needed, to avoid physical contact. Analysts would play a greater role, by crunching data and feeding it to coaches real time and offering wider perspectives.

The responsibility is now on federations, clubs, trainers, heads of educational institutions and parents to tackle this problem and move forward to bring sports back in action. This could start with establishing safety protocols which are must in post covid-19 scenario, like stopping use of saliva on a cricket ball, restricting celebrating through claps, hugs or physical contact. Also, medical expertise and counselling will be of great importance.

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