Sports prepare for return in North America, but virus doubts persist

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Bojan Bogdanovic (left) of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 29, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo/AFP

Los Angeles, Tuesday

Four months after grinding to a halt due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic, major professional sports leagues in North America are taking their first nervous steps back on the road to recovery.

But as basketball, soccer and baseball gear up for long-awaited returns this month, they are doing so against a backdrop of anxiety and surging COVID-19 cases across the  United States.

Athletes in all three sports have expressed deep misgivings about arrangements put in place for their return, and in several cases have opted to skip participating altogether.

The National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer have drawn up plans which will see teams based in a protective “bubble” in Orlando, Florida where COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks.

Yet a cluster of outbreaks involving two MLS teams already inside the bubble has highlighted the omnipotent threat posed by the coronavirus, even in the face of carefully crafted mitigation measures.

“It’s important that the leagues realize that even in a ‘bubble’, there is still risk to all players and staff for contracting COVID-19,” said Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

“It’s impossible to completely mitigate the risk even when players and staff practice social distancing and wear masks.”

That point was underscored by Monday’s news that 11 members of Dallas FC’s organization 10 players and a technical assistant had tested positive for COVID-19.

Dallas FC were later withdrawn from the MLS is Back tournament altogether, less than 48 hours before it kicks off on Wednesday.

Nashville SC, another team taking part, have also reportedly suffered multiple coronavirus cases since arriving in Florida.

Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta, believes the two MLS outbreaks have exposed the single biggest flaw in the “bubble” models.

“The most difficult part is getting everyone into the bubble safely without introducing the virus right at the start,” Binney told AFP.

“This was always something I was worried about but it has been shown to be a much bigger deal than I thought. -AFP

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