Well, It Was a Nice Try: Some Sports Aren’t Going So Well

It sounded like a good idea. Bring sports back, carefully, slowly, with adequate precautions. So why does it seem to be going wrong in so many places?

As major North American sports are preparing to return, a close look around the world finds a slew of problems that even the N.B.A.’s 113 pages of protocols might not be ready for.

College football is eternal, right? Well, maybe not. Williams and Bowdoin, small New England colleges that play in Division III, canceled fall sports. With fewer or perhaps no opponents available, rivals like Amherst, Wesleyan and Tufts may soon have to follow suit.

“Teams will be able to practice outside in small groups if they adhere to social distancing guidelines, and may progress to more gamelike practice activities if conditions improve,” Maud S. Mandel, the Williams president, said in a statement. But teams will not travel or compete against other schools. The statement continued, “Our decision has been guided by the utmost attention to safety protocols to ensure the health and safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and community.”

Big universities with their massive, profitable programs may not do the same. Still, there are worrying signs. Michigan, home of a 100,000-seat football stadium and a host of storied traditions and rivalries, is projecting a budget deficit. The university is expecting attendance to fall by 50 percent for the coming school year, said Warde Manuel, the director of athletics.

As a result, salaries will be cut on a sliding scale. Those making less than $50,000 a year will not be cut, but others will face cuts of 5 to 10 percent, with top earners like the football coach, Jim Harbaugh, and the men’s basketball coach, Juwan Howard, at 10 percent.

The sports-mad country of Australia was one that eagerly got its games going again. But it has had more than its share of pitfalls, with some athletes being fined for violating social distancing, others coming down with flulike symptoms and still others told to stay away from some states.

In the latest development, a game in the phenomenally popular Australian rules football league has been canceled after the state of Queensland denied a team entry into its state.

Richmond, from a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, had been scheduled to travel to play West Coast in Queensland on Thursday. But Queensland has adopted strict rules for travelers from Victoria, requiring a 14-day quarantine, which would throw the entire league schedule into disarray.

Instead, Sydney, based in New South Wales, will now play West Coast this weekend, while Melbourne will take on Richmond. There are still more than 100 games to go in the resumed regular season, and conflicting state regulations may continue to tangle the schedule.

In England, where the Premier League has come back to life, there is an early snag. The Leicester area is under lockdown after an increase in coronavirus cases, with schools and shops being shuttered again. Leicester City is supposed to play Crystal Palace there on Saturday. The game is on for now, but neutral sites are being scouted just in case, and postponement is also a possibility.

  • Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Given that some states in the United States are also telling visitors to self-quarantine, it is an issue that may have an impact on the North American major leagues as well.

In other Antipodean developments, there was some good news for New Zealand … sort of. The rest of the 2019-20 rugby sevens series, the shorter, faster version of the game played in the Olympics, was canceled. The New Zealand men’s and women’s teams were in the lead, so they earn the trophies.

In the end, six of a possible 10 events for the men and five of eight for the women were staged before the pandemic. Events in Canada, England, France and Singapore and the most prestigious, the Hong Kong Sevens, will not be held this season.

Will things get back to normal in 2021 at least? Well, the men’s Africa Cup of Nations, the most important international soccer tournament on the continent, scheduled for January 2021, was pushed back to 2022 on Tuesday. And the women’s tournament was canceled entirely.

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