Since February, most major sports, including tennis and cricket, have come to a standstill due to the unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the biggest sporting events of this year, like the Tokyo Olympics and UEFA Euro 2020, have been postponed for at least a year.
The safety of players and spectators is of utmost importance in this scenario, and hence the cancellation of almost all live sports was inevitable. However, with continued uncertainty about the availability of a vaccine for COVID-19, it is pertinent to have a relook at the policy of not having any sports for an indefinite period.
Can non-contact sports like tennis and cricket be held during the COVID-19 lockdown?
Of course, contact sports such as football and rugby cannot be played during the COVID-19 lockdown period as they make players susceptible to physical contact and infection, especially from an asymptomatic player.
However, it is high time the sporting bodies seriously reconsider their decision on non-contact sports such as tennis and cricket.
The top-ranked tennis players especially have voiced their concerns about the lower-ranked players. The latter are almost entirely dependent on tour matches for survival and are the hardest hit due to the tour's suspension. Both ATP and WTA tours stand suspended till July 13, 2020.
During this period, all tournament categories on the ATP and WTA tours, including the Grand Slams (non ATP/WTA events) stand cancelled. In such a scenario, the lower-ranked players would find it increasingly difficult to sustain themselves due to financial difficulties.
Both tennis and cricket are non-contact sports. To ensure that there is absolutely no contact, certain guidelines can be prepared that every player would need to adhere to.
In tennis, as was the case during an exhibition tennis tournament recently in Germany starring Dustin Brown, there were no ball boys and handshakes were banned.
Similarly, the use of saliva could be strictly prohibited in cricket. Other similar measures can be taken for the safety of the players and the organisers.
Challenges in resuming sports during the COVID-19 lockdown
One of the major impediments in the resumption of these non-contact sports could be the travel arrangements of the players and officials.
With the aviation sector almost non-functional in terms of passenger flights internationally, players can't travel from one country to another. Keeping that in mind, it's essential to look at possibilities of having more domestic tournaments with local talent being encouraged. That way, the lower-ranked players would get to play.
However, that leaves organisers with another significant problem of generating finance for staging these tournaments, especially with the possibility of very few or no spectators coming to the courts/stadiums.
Innovative strategies need to be thought of and employed in such situations. For instance, in the case of tennis, in addition to local players of lower pedigree playing, one could bring in at least one or two marquee players.
In European countries as well as in North America, that should not be a problem since most of these countries have at least one marquee player who can ensure that live telecast of these matches would bring in money from the TV audience. In India, that could be a problem, though, as there is a lack of marque tennis players. Still, if properly marketed, one could make the tournaments saleable for a TV audience.
Till the time there is a vaccine or drug to combat COVID-19, there can be no live spectators to ensure that no one is infected. However, the matches can be telecast live on TV, and that should take care of the finances required to organise such events. As Dinesh Karthik rightly pointed out that many cricketers are used to playing in empty stadiums anyway, especially in domestic tournaments such as Ranji Trophy.
It’s perhaps time to start non-contact sports such as tennis and cricket at all levels, even in empty stadiums and courts. The sports bodies around the world owe it to the players and fans.Published 06 May 2020, 02:08 IST