Sport must wait: Indian experts; Fauci for 'no-fans' re-start


NEW DELHI: While Indian medical experts warn that resuming sporting events this year could mean putting lives at risk, Anthony Fauci, US President Donald Trump’s leading infectious disease adviser, has argued that an abbreviated season may be possible if games are played without fans.

However, with no signs as yet of the COVID-19 outbreak being brought under control, some of the national capital region’s top doctors believe sporting events are not going to happen for at least the next six to nine months. 

“I have no doubt that sport is great but at the moment, the focus is on saving lives, and having sports events, which attract large crowds, could prove to be disastrous,” Akash Sabharwal, a renowned sports injury surgeon associated with the Max Hospitals, told PTI. Since the “transmission rate is very high”, he said it should be completely avoided for a substantial period of time, even though sport encourages physical and mental well-being besides a sense of inclusivity.

As chief executives of various leagues and administrators mull ways to restart tournaments and championships once the pandemic is brought under control, the doctor said even hosting them without an audience is not advisable at this point of time. “That can be done when things are much better from what they are now. But even then, it will be risky as it involves players, officials, organisers and so many staff, and chances of getting infected will always be there,” he added. “I understand big money is involved in events like the IPL, but even the Olympics have been postponed, because there is no other option.”

That's not the way Fauci sees it though. “There’s a way of doing that: Nobody comes to the stadium, put them (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled,” the leading U.S. health expert said in a Snapchat interview.

“Make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”

Fauci, who appeared last month in an Instagram live interview with Golden State Warriors sharp-shooter Steph Curry, said he would recommend that athletes should be tested roughly once a week after resuming play.

Meanwhile, over on this side of the world, Dr Ashis Acharya, a sports medicine expert at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the capital’s top health institutes, went a step further and said live games should not be held for at least six months. “Sports is way down in the priority right now. We have to first focus on the essentials so that people are not strained. I don’t think it is wise to have them for at least the next three to six months,” Acharya told PTI.

Dr Neha Gupta, an infectious disease specialist at Gurugram’s Medanta Hospital, concurred with Sabharwal and Acharya. “We have seen that with this new virus, the chances of spread is very high, so I don’t think sports events should be held for some months, at least till the time the situation is not brought under control,” Gupta told the newswire. 

No different was the thinking of Dr Puneet Khanna, head of respiratory medicine department at the Manipal Hospital in Dwarka. “It’s absolutely wise to not host any sporting events for three to six months at least, and doing otherwise could prove to be a disaster, putting lives in danger,” PTI quotes him as having said. “At best, they can be held without audience with most of the people catching the action on television. And that after the situation improves from what it is now.”

Meanwhile. the prospect of sports going ahead without fans has met with some criticism in the US. Major League Baseball recently damped down talk it would return as soon as May with players competing in an isolation bubble.

Last month, before professional sport was suspended, 16-time NBA All-Star LeBron James called the notion of playing without fans impossible, Reuters reports.

Fauci continued to . “People say, ‘Well, you know, you can’t play without spectators,’” said Fauci. “Well, I think you probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. “I’m living in Washington, we have the World Champion Washington Nationals, I want to see them play again.”

India currently has over 11,500 positive cases with more than 350 recorded deaths, making it virtually impossible for the government to lift any of the restrictions put in place last month. Across the world, the pandemic, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province, has claimed more than 120,000 lives, while infecting over 2 million people.

All sporting events, big and small, have been either cancelled or postponed in the wake of the unprecedented global health crisis, with the biggest of them being the pushing back of the Tokyo Olympics by a year.