The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Sporting Activities

The outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus have impacted almost every sector. Sports and entertainment sectors are one of the worst affected as they have lost a significant amount of revenues as all their activities are halted completely. Sports, in particular, will continue to be under some stress in the coming months even after the world starts adapting to living the new normal life. 

Once the economy is fully opened, seeing people wearing masks, gloves, and practising social distancing would be normal. However, there are questions around as to how the sporting world is going to cope with their operations post the latest pandemic. It’s just a matter of a few weeks that things would flow back to normal and the world opens up. 

What has already happened?

Most sporting events were suspended since the mid of March owing to the restrictions imposed by the national governments across the world. Notably, the Tokyo Olympic games, which was slated this July-August has been postponed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the following year due to the growing fears over the pandemic not ending soon. 

The Indian Premier League (IPL), the richest cricket league in the world, was postponed indefinitely by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in March. Now, the ICC World T20, which is scheduled in October, is also likely to postponed to the next year by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The suspension and postponement of sporting activities have left the fans disappointed. 

Most sports are played in front of a packed stadium. Now, with social distancing being the need of the hour, the players will not be getting the satisfaction of enthralling the full-house arena as they would be forced to play in front of empty stands. Even if the governments allow spectators, it would not be anywhere close to the full-house. The best that we expect is to see 60% of the capacity being allowed. 

Back in March, an international cricket game between Australia and New Zealand was played at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) with no spectators allowed inside, but that didn’t go well, and the remainder of the series was called off. 

Also Read: Are You Ready to Embrace the New Normal of Social Distancing?

What’s happening now?

The sporting activities have slowly begun in some parts of the world. Notably, the Bundesliga resumed on the 16th of May, and the German Football Association is hoping to finish the season by the 30th of June. However, the matches are being held in front of closed doors on the back of a ban on public gathering until the 31st of August in Germany. 

Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CBPL) games are being played in front of dummy spectators carved out of cardboard sheets. This desperate move comes on the back of giving the players a sense of playing in front of their fans and making the game look better on the television. 

What’s ahead?

The biggest disappointment of the new normal for the sporting world would be the spectators not being allowed to witness live action at the stadium. They will have to be happy watching their favourite players play on the television or online streaming sites. This is sure to bring a revolution in the way people watch sports. 

This gives broadcasters with an opportunity to be more innovative and customer-centric in the way they go about their business. The revenues generated for the sports clubs would be impacted as they no longer can (at least for now) sell the full stadium tickets. However, they can start generating revenues in the form of broadcasting rights, as the BCCI does.

The BCCI is not relying on the sale of tickets as the revenues generated from auctioning the broadcasting rights make up for the most part. Other sports can implement the same. However, for that to happen, the league and the game must be popular enough to bring in considerable cash flow. Therefore, we can expect the sporting bodies to be more active in terms of marketing their league and the game together. 

Now that practising social distancing has become a necessity, it calls for a reduced travelling of athletes. Therefore, we can expect the game to be played only at a few venues. For example, in India, there are more than 25 international cricket stadiums. To keep the itinerary short, the BCCI may consider scheduling games only at a few cities where the distance between the stadium and the hotel is short.

If this happens, then the cities such as Pune would not benefit as the stadium is located far away from the heart of the city. Therefore, the sporting bodies will now consider constructing the accommodation facilities for the athletes inside the stadium itself, thereby creating a bio-bubble, and permitting only the authorised personals to enter and exit. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is planning to host Pakistan and Windies in August. It is deliberating on scheduling the games at Old Trafford and Ageas Bowl, as they are considered bio-secure and have on-site hotels. However, the players and support staff might be subject to a period of quarantine, depending on the UK Government’s decision. 

Due to the travel restrictions and the risk of infections, the referees and umpires may not be invited from other countries. We may be seeing the officials from home and visiting counties taking up those responsibilities. To avoid the conflict of interest scenario, and have fair decisions being made, we may expect the sporting bodies to automate the decision-making mechanism with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies in the coming days. 

Like everything, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 too shall pass. Adapting to the new lifestyle is necessary as change is the only constant in our lives. We may expect some sporting actions to return in the next two-three months, with some modifications. 

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