The World Forum - June 17th, 2024

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Are all sports shutdowns necessary?


Have all sport shutdowns over the past year been justified? If we are supposed to be following the science, perhaps not.

That’s a bold and surely controversial statement in today’s climate.

But the fact is, there’s growing, compelling evidence that other than sports played inside ice arenas, primarily hockey, transmission of the coronavirus on a sport’s playing field might not be happening. That is, in-game or in-practice.

“In terms of truly documented transmission between athletes during participation, I’m not aware of anything,” says Dr. Drew Watson, lead author on three University of Wisconsin studies that investigated COVID-19 risks in sports, and senior author on three other UW studies on the mental-health effects of sports shutdowns (all referenced below).

“I know researchers who are struggling to find even a single case among outdoor-sports participants, in particular.”

It’s not that coronavirus outbreaks have not been tied to sports events of all kinds, everywhere. They have. Rather, the key distinction is whether the actual transmission of the virus occurred on the playing surface during play, or rather in peripheral social contact at these events — such as among tightly grouped parents spectating, or participants socializing between matches in undistanced groups, or athletes and coaches gathered closely beforehand or afterward for too long (such as in small, poorly vented dressing rooms), or in group transportation to and from sports events.

Public health agencies in Canada’s nine largest provinces — as well as in several populous states south of the border (California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana) — either are not tracking sports-caused COVID-19 infections to such distinguishing detail, or aren’t releasing it, inquiries from Postmedia have found.

The Government of Manitoba, in a statement to Postmedia, said its public-health “contact tracing data does not track numbers to that level of specificity, and information on possible exposures is not always consistently or accurately reported by COVID-positive cases. Further, reported potential exposure locations or events reflect only one possibility of where a person may have contracted the virus. As a result, we can’t definitively say where the case contracted COVID-19.”

Only Ontario released sport-by-sport outbreak data. Only Quebec broke down outbreaks between three types of sports (since the end of August): rare athlete contact (11), frequent athlete contact (28) and inevitable athlete contact (five).