Only 'minor risk' of Covid-19 transmission in football match

17 June 2020 4 min. read
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While the matter remains controversial, new research has shown that playing football is actually much less of a risk for transmitting Covid-19 than previously thought. As England, Germany, Spain and Italy resume their suspended seasons, a study from the Dutch football association has found 98% of matches present minimal or no risk for footballers to transmit coronavirus to one-another.

Coupled with numerous studies that have shown coronavirus infections via open air spaces are rare, officials from the Netherlands has determined that the risk of contamination via football is minimal. The analysis shows that celebrating goals actually accounted for 35% of all contact moments on the field, and corners for 45%.

While corners cannot be avoided, the researchers also believe that contact moments can be considerably reduced here. The time given to take a corner may go down, and when multiple corners are given in succession, the attacking team may be required to leave the 16-meter area in between. Provided protocols are followed such as avoiding hand contact (as seen in the Bundesliga since its restart), Edwin Goedhart, Head of the KNVB medical staff and doctor of the Dutch national team, told newspaper Het Parool participating in team sport is relatively safe to do.

Only 'minor risk' of Covid-19 transmission in football match

Goedhart, who participated in the research in recent weeks, stated, “Honestly, our conclusions surprise me too… You can never completely rule out the risk of contamination, but if you stay at home when you are sick and keep a good distance in the dressing room, playing football on the field is safe."

The easing of the lock-down will come as welcome news to many elite football clubs, who have seen their seemingly untouchable revenue streams majorly impacted by the pandemic. While the top leagues in England, Spain, Italy and Germany have managed to leverage their clout to extract huge revenues from broadcasters to showcase their product in recent years, Covid-19 jeopardised this vital stream of income – after many clubs had long spent advances from their TV money.

According to a recent report from KPMG’s Football Benchmark team, if Europe’s top five leagues have to cancel the remaining games this season, it could cost them a combined €4.1 billion – something largely resulting from rebates being made to broadcasters feeling short-changed by the lock-down. France’s Ligue 1 looked set to take the smallest hit as the only top five league not to have revenue made up of more than 50% broadcast fees. As a result, it is the only one to have ended the season early, declaring runaway leaders PSG champions earlier in the spring.

The move to restart has caused a great deal of controversy since it was announced, but a new study from the Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond (the Dutch national football association known as the KNVB) undertaken by analysis firm Inmotio suggests that transmitting Covid-19 via football may be much harder than previously thought. Having examined close to 500 Eredivisie matches to see how many "close contacts" there are between the players, and how long they last, the report found that in 98.2% of the examined matches, there was minimal or no risk for footballers to transmit a virus to one-another.

Assuming medical examinations for coronavirus are accurate in the assertion that there is no risk of contamination if you are less than 30 centimeters apart for more than three minutes, the vast majority of contact moments between players did not exceed the 30-second mark.

Epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning of the University Medical Center Utrecht took to Dutch broadcaster NOS to argue that football could be safely played again, but emphasised that social-distancing measures must also be properly monitored outside the field.

“You have to think about the conditions around it, such as dealing with each other in the dressing room, not hugging each other, not drinking from each other's water bottle, not carpooling to an away game. You can make agreements about that,” Bruijning explained.