In the absence of games, recent sports titles have focused on hopes and dreams – that is, leagues and unexplored course teams must navigate to return to competition following the pandemic.
Almost all leagues speak publicly of their desire to return before summer. But behind closed doors, they develop various potential plans: the 30 baseball teams playing in Arizona; home tournaments to decide tied matches; the Stanley Cup being hoisted in an empty arena that no team calls home; ranking of end-of-season football decided by vote; college football games in the spring.
Over the past week, the Associated Press has spoken with more than two dozen decision makers, coaches and players around the world to get their heartfelt assessments of plans to return from the new coronavirus outages. The bottom line: While it is essential to put in place optimistic restart scenarios, none of these plans will work without the support of politicians and the consent of players and medical experts. Underlying all of this would be a drastic acceleration of testing, a breakthrough in vaccines or treatments, or some other solution.
In short, the return of all sports, regardless of the plan’s innovation, will be risky and uncertain for the rest of this year and until 2021.
“These are not 22 players walking on the pitch and throwing a ball,” said FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani, whose concerns about restarting football mirror those of all sports in the world.
Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett are hosting a podcast on the impact of COVID-19 on sports around the world. They speak to experts, athletes and personalities, providing a window into the lives of the people we normally look for in entirely different ways.
Organizers of the Olympics were among the last to postpone their event, and then among the first to set a new date – exactly 52 weeks after the July 24 cauldron was scheduled to light. The decision to postpone the next 15 months came just before an unexpected spike in virus cases reached Japan. The ensuing concern underscored the many open questions about the arc of the epidemic.
“I think everyone is probably working on several options. It’s “If that, then what? “,” Said Tim Hinchey, CEO of USA Swimming, the sport’s governing body in the United States.
Virtually every major team sport has scenarios for playing fanless games in the stands.
The Washington Post reported that although the NFL is publicly committed to its usual kick-off date in September, it is investigating eventualities that include shortening the season or being in front of stadiums half full or empty.
College sport directors have proposed half a dozen or more scenarios for the football season, including, according to Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma, a scenario in which part of the season will be played in the spring. An increasingly accepted theme: if it is not safe enough for students to return to school or attend games, athletes should also not be invited to return. Without the millions of dollars in football, all university sports are in danger.
NASCAR, which has organized virtual races, has given teams a tentative schedule that the season will resume on May 24 without fans.
The NHL has made plans that include restarting the season this summer, direct access to the playoffs and / or playing in empty arenas in neutral cities.
The PGA Tour announced a restart in mid-June and has harmonized its calendar with the calendar of majors already reworked. In a nod to the precariousness of all this, Andy Pazder, the director general of tournaments and competitions of the circuit, declared that if the events could not take place in the respect of the health rules, then “we do not will do nothing ”.
This is also where the NBA seems to be for now. The league that was the first to face the coronavirus pandemic, canceling games on March 11, is pending. Most of the league’s conversations are about resuming the season, not about canceling it.
In Australia, ambitious plans to resume play in the National Rugby League by the end of May have been thwarted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The English Premier League also said it wanted to end its season but would only do so “with the full support of the government” and when “medical advice permits”. Meanwhile, in Scotland, a wild ballot has already taken place to decide to lock the league rankings and prepare for next season.
In the United States, Major League Baseball plans to bring the 30 teams to Maricopa County, Arizona, for a regular season at spring training sites.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert who called for restraint to resume normal activities, offered a glimmer of hope when he suggested that the sport could eventually return. He suggested there are no fans in the arenas and constant testing for players, which should probably be quarantined in hotels for weeks or months.
Not all players are on board.
“Am I going to spend four or five months without seeing my child at birth?” I can tell you right away that it will not happen, “wrote Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals in a newspaper for AP. Zimmerman’s third child is due to arrive in June.
Whether Zimmerman shows it or not, baseball could be a very different game if he returns in 2020. Some other ideas have floated, including the end of the season in December, the scheduling of a multitude of doubles with seven games in seven heats and the quick decision of links with the home run derbies.
However, for all these scenarios, nobody really knows what will happen if, despite all the precautions, an epidemic strikes a team. Could a positive test eviscerate an entire season?
Before setting anything in motion, all leagues are waiting for consensus from government and health experts, not to mention the players and owners.
Right now, said Montagliani, “the overarching skill set required of us is risk management and nothing else. “