When will sports return after the coronavirus pandemic? —

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💡 The Big Idea

The return of sports has become a benchmark for the return to normal life. Here’s the TLDR to our guide on the great sports comeback. 

🤔Here’s Why

1️⃣ Getting athletes back to work has been an imperative for coaches, fans, sponsors, and cities.

2️⃣ Commercial interests have made sports a testing ground for Covid-safe best practices.

3️⃣ But the return of sports is about much more than money.

4️⃣ The pause has been an inconceivable loss for many athletes across the world,

5️⃣ while the future of some events will be in the hands of casual participants.

📝 The Details

Sports are a tangible barometer of the wellbeing of a nation, and the return of fans to stadiums—gathering, drinking, eating, shouting, singing, and swearing together—will be a sign that normal life is returning. The health of people, communities, and economies are all significantly connected to its resurrection.

As sports gradually make a comeback, they can impart lessons to any industry. How to organize safe gatherings at a large scale, for example; how to keep employees safe and facilitate international travel; how to renegotiate contracts; how to keep paying customers on side; how to keep valuable human assets motivated; and even how to use the enforced downtime to make longer-term plans and further investments.

“Most of the time, you’re on a heavy hamster wheel of chaos and momentum,” says Matt Goodman, COO at New York City FC, a Major League Soccer team. “It’s really hard to stop and strategize. And I think that the one area of opportunity that this pandemic provided us was the opportunity to focus on the business rather than constantly being in the business.”

Sports economists generally agree that professional teams play a surprisingly small role in the economy of their cities, and that the return of sports won’t drive the post-pandemic recovery. But just because sports don’t matter that much financially, it doesn’t mean that they don’t matter.

“There are aspects of quality of life that are not monetary,” says Michael Leeds, an economist at Temple University. “The big cost of losing sports is at the cultural level.” Sports bring people together and are a source of local identity. He just thinks it’s important to admit that this is why sports are important, not because they generate economic growth.

The coronavirus ultimately put a months-long end to sport in India, much to the dismay of its 1.3 billion sports-mad citizens. With cricket being given priority, other athletes are struggling to get back on track as they watch sporting activity returns in other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, mounting losses have also made it difficult, or even impossible, for some European clubs to recruit players from abroad. For teams, it means losing out on a cohort of soccer talent. For prospective players in Africa, it means losing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, and risks setting them up for exploitation.

Marathons are the lifeblood of the running community, and the kinds of lucrative competitive races that often turn casual joggers into devoted participants of the sport. They’re also potential super-spreader events. Race directors have gone virtual, or found workarounds to host small races. But even with compromises like these, events won’t be back at full strength until amateurs feel confident enough to return.

In the grand scheme of things, the modern-day return of sports and lower-level sporting activity, like the return of everything else, is imprecise. Sports are not on an island. Their problems and challenges are, to a large extent, the same as the rest of society’s. But their innovations and successful practices—with testing, forward planning, and so on—are useful for everyone to follow.

📚 Read the field guide

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