Usually left to hope, sports fans have active role to play in fighting pandemic


Rogers Centre (Chris Young/CP)

TORONTO — Few currencies are as potent or enduring in the sports world as that of hope, which is something fans are still clinging to amid the current indefinite shutdown.
A quick resumption of play has been the moving target everyone has aspired to ever since the NBA paused its season, mere hours after word spread that Rudy Gobert had contracted COVID-19. There was optimism then it wouldn’t last long, same for the NHL, while Major League Baseball’s initial postponement was for only two weeks.
That was three weeks ago. How ridiculous does that seem now?
Slowly, as the pandemic has worsened, people began to grasp that sports was a very small part of the equation. When the Centre for Disease Control in the United States imposed limits on mass gatherings to mid-May, any thought of a restart got punted way down the line. Now, even as chatter about contingency plans for possible June restarts keep trickling out, such scenarios only become increasingly far-fetched by the day.
The starkest illustration yet as to why even the late summer may be out of reach came Friday, when Ontario health officials revealed that the physical-distancing measures in place have cut the projected death toll of the outbreak from 100,000 people to between 3,500-15,000.
In April alone, the toll has been reduced from 6,000 to an expected 1,600, although stronger measures might cut that total dramatically, down to 250, according to the province’s modelling.
Had life continued uninterrupted, there would have been 300,000 coronavirus infections this month alone, a number slashed to 80,000 by the current intervention. Further restrictions could cut that down all the way to 12,500, but frankly, too many people are flouting the measures already in place for that to happen.
These are the numbers driving policy decisions. They’ll have to change dramatically before sports leagues can realistically contemplate any sort of return.
Though many coronavirus victims experience only mild symptoms and the vast majority of fatalities occur in people aged 60 and above, the ease with which the disease is spread can easily overwhelm a healthcare system, the way it has in Italy.
The province’s best-case-versus-worst-case numbers in relation to intensive-care unit capacity in Ontario are sobering. To avert disaster, we must continue to stay away from each other, and those who haven’t respected the social-distancing edicts must do so, now.

All of which underlines why any sort of restart in the sports world is well down the line, perhaps not until there’s either a vaccine or a reliable anti-viral treatment.
For starters, keeping a large group of athletes together in close quarters for extended periods healthy and safe from infection is virtually impossible. If each coronavirus case tends to lead to two or three other infections, as the current trends show, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Put an exponent beside that when it comes to fans in the stands, especially when the hygiene practises of various attendees aren’t guaranteed to be rigourous or sufficient.
Besides, even if sports leagues could guarantee the safety of athletes, staff and fans, it’s not like they can magically open up for business while the rest of the province is in a virtual shutdown. Hence, there’s no point in investing any hope of a restart until the pandemic is under some measure of control.
To that end, sports fans, like all citizens, have an important role to play.
As Dr. Peter Donnelly, the president and chief executive officer of Public Health Ontario, put it while discussing the province’s modelling, the more we publicly bear down now, the more the spread can be contained, and the faster that happens, the faster the economy can resume.
We can all help reduce this period of pain by fulfilling our personal duty to separate.
As any sports fan with a bit of an analytical bent will know, the best way to alter the outcome of a projection is to tinker with the data inputs. The province’s numbers paint a grim portrait, one that unofficial models in the United States illustrate far more direly.
Miss Mike Trout dominating on the diamond? Sidney Crosby controlling on the ice? Giannis Antetokounmpo balling out on the floor? Lionel Messi mesmerizing on the pitch?
Do your part. Stay home. Stay away from others. Wash your hands — a lot. Help everybody, yourself and your favourite athletes included, get back to work. This is one time sports fans don’t have to hope. Like everybody else, they can help their own cause by doing all of the above.

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