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Calling time

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Calling time

How the sport and development community must get on board with official guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spread of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) has been dominating headlines for weeks, seeing whole countries going into quarantine, travel restrictions put in place and public events cancelled. Health systems in affected countries are already under strain, and authorities emphasise the importance of minimising the spread of the virus to ensure that there will be adequate facilities available for patients who need the most support.

At sportanddev we know the power of sport to bring people together, but this same quality is exactly why the global sports community must do its utmost to ensure that sport does not exacerbate the crisis.

Social distancing

After hygiene, one of the key recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) is social distancing.

This means:

  • Immediate isolation of those suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19
  • The suspension of mass gatherings
  • Social distancing at workplaces (e.g. teleworking, suspension of meetings, cancellation of non-essential travel)
  • Measures in and closure of schools, taking into consideration all the factors of the situation
  • Cordoning residential areas with high levels of community transmission

This should be implemented early, to interrupt human-to-human transmission and slow the spread of the virus, which allows healthcare systems to prepare.

Dr Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist who has conducted research on sport and contagious diseases told sportanddev, “I would say that the social distancing component to COVID-19 prevention is important, and sporting events make that challenging. People staying home when they’re sick is a huge aspect of outbreak control.

As social distancing becomes more important, large-scale sporting events will likely be cancelled to avoid transmission of the disease.

Many sporting events have already been cancelled, and sporting bodies are in discussion about what the crisis means for this year’s seasons and events, and for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), a sportanddev community member based in Germany, has already made the decision to  provisionally suspend activities including events, high performance and development activities, and ITTF Foundation activities until the end of April 2020, stating “The health and safety of athletes, coaches, officials and fans is the top priority.”

The WHO reiterates:

Community engagement and acceptance of stringent social distancing measures put in place are key in delaying and reducing further spread.

Be informed

Another key recommendation is ensuring the public is aware of the seriousness of COVID-19. The ECDC states “A high degree of population understanding, solidarity and discipline is required to apply strict personal hygiene, coughing etiquette, self-monitoring and social distancing measures.

Make sure you are informed about what COVID-19 means for you, your workplace and your community.  In times of crisis, misinformation can spread quickly. Be sure that your information comes from official channels. The WHO is maintaining a Q&A on COVID-19, which details everything from symptoms, to protection measures and treatment options.

A video guide to simple protection steps is available, and a demonstration of correct hygiene and handwashing can also be found on the John Hopkins Hospital Youtube page. 

ChildFund, an NGO implementing sport for development programmes in developing countries, shared that it is ramping up programmes in disease prevention and containment, including hand-washing awareness, checking that WASH facilities are safe and disease-free and amplifying health messages in school settings.

Our primary objective is to ensure children and families can protect themselves and their community.

"In countries where we support government health services, our staff will continue to partner with the relevant authorities and support their work to test and treat those affected.”

Be kind and support one another

While it is essential to take the risk to public health seriously, it’s important to minimise unhelpful stress and anxiety for vulnerable people, including children and those with mental health concerns. UNICEF has guidance on how to talk to children about COVID-19, and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has detailed information on mental health and coping during COVID-19.

Furthermore, the UN reports that crises often exacerbate existing tensions and issues, including gender inequality and racism.

A united response to COVID-19 from the sport and development community is an opportunity to show solidarity with affected people around the world, to ease the pressure on local health systems, and to demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit.

This article was published on 13 March 2020. Visit the World Health Organization website and your local health authority website for the latest updates.


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Friday, March 13, 2020 - 14:50