The Intersection Of COVID-19 And Two Sports

Today, there is news from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  Statistically, the IOC makes the news under one of two circumstances:

  1. Someone breaks a story revealing corruption or chicanery and the IOC swears that it will investigate and get to the bottom of it all because those sorts of things are not part of the “Olympic Movement”.  [Aside:  Ha!]
  2. They announce some phase of some upcoming Games; and normally, it evokes a head-scratching response.

Today’s news is much more of the latter.  According to a senior official of the IOC, the 2020 Games that were supposed to be in Tokyo in July and were postponed to 2021 will go on as scheduled with or without COVID-19 and with or without a viable vaccine.  Let that wash over you for just a moment while I ask – ever so politely and only for the purpose of clarification:

  • If you do not need a viable vaccine to put on the 2021 Games and you are going to stage the Games despite the status of the coronavirus that caused the 2020 postponement, why did you postpone the 2020 Games in the first place?

If the guy in China who ate the bat that caused the coronavirus to jump from bats to humans had ordered Italian food for that dinner, the 2020 Games might have been held under ordinary circumstances.  In that case, the expectation was that approximately 11,000 athletes would have assembled in Tokyo from every corner of the Earth and participated in the Games.  I am going to go out on a limb here:

  • If there is no viable vaccine – – nor presumably a highly effective therapeutic – – for COVID-19 by the Summer of 2021, I doubt that 11,000 Olympic athletes will participate in those Games.

The basis for my assertion there is that I believe that many Olympic athletes are smarter than your average rutabaga.  Some will decide that an infection risk is not worth the gamble and simply go on with some other phase of their lives.  Moreover, the ones who do show up will need to think much more carefully about “normal behavior” in the Olympic Village as the Games run their course.  Recall that in most of the recent Games, there have been reports of hundreds of thousands or condoms being supplied to athletes in the Olympic Village to prevent the spread of AIDS.  I am neither a physician nor an epidemiologist, but I feel as if I am on firm ground here:

  • Folks who recognize the wisdom of using condoms in social interactions are not practicing social distancing.
  • The employment of that which prevents the spread of AIDS might accelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus – – in the absence of a viable vaccine.

I am not sure why the IOC felt the need to make such a definitive statement at this point, but I try never to be in the business of understanding IOC actions to the point that I can replicate the decision making processes there.

Let me pivot here to the intersection of COVID-19 and another sport – one about to begin its season – the NFL.  Other than the flurry of false positive coronavirus tests affecting about 10 teams a few weeks ago, the NFL seems to have gotten to a very comfortable place at the end of training camp.  There has not been a “team outbreak” and the latest data reported out said that the positivity rate for the frequent testing done is less than 1%.  Frankly, the NFL should not have realistically counted on anything better than that when it finalized its plans for a 2020 season.

Things have gotten to the current positive place because the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a reasonable testing regime and to team behaviors that were both effective in preventing viral spread and tolerable to the players such that they held to the rules.  Congratulations to both sides of the table for that demonstration of rational adult behavior.

It will be interesting to see how the league will conduct contact tracing in the event of something more than a single positive test that become confirmed as positive tests.  Imagine if 5 players on a team test positive and those positive tests are confirmed.  At that point, the element of contact tracing becomes particularly important.  Consider:

  • The NFL teams do not live in a “Bubble”.  Therefore, players come in contact with people outside the “team environment” meaning that all contact tracing involving that aspect of a player’s life will rely on the candid and thorough recall of the infected player.
  • It has been established that one can spread the virus without showing symptoms which means to me that it is possible for a player to be infected to the point of being a source of viral spread before he is tested and shows positive for the COVID-19 virus.  That being the case, he could have been part of regular team functions – – meetings, film study, practices – – for a day or two or three as a virus spreader before the test results came in.  Ignoring for a moment any outside  contacts that might shed light on how he became infected or to whom outside the team he may have spread the infection, how would a team determine which of his teammates he had been with for a sufficient amount of time and in sufficiently close proximity to put those other teammates at risk?

Those challenges are non-trivial for a single player on a team testing positive; the challenge increases exponentially for multiple players who crisscross one another within the team.  Practices would be real challenges there.  A real practice – – not just a walk-through – – puts players in situations where they are aerosol droplet producers meaning there is always the potential for viral spread in a practice if there is an infected player involved.  Now, imagine the contact tracing challenge if the infected player is part of the defensive unit, the punt and kickoff defense unit, the punt coverage unit and the placekicking unit.  YOWZA!

Finally, let me leave you with this Tweet by WSOP commentator, Norman Chad:

“They say the early bird gets the worm. If the worm were smart, he would start sleeping in.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “The Intersection Of COVID-19 And Two Sports”

  1. Only makes sense the IOC is reluctant to postpone again. Once, then can just get a longer Olympiad. If you postpone again, you will end up pushing back OTHER games, delaying them, and delaying the next cycle of bribes.

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