Halftime Thoughts: Dazed but not defeated

Following the sudden pause of respective amateur and professional leagues due to the various quarantine measures imposed around the globe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the world of sports was left in limbo with a growing uncertainty over the fate of sports competitions—whether they will carry on during a later date or end up canceled. Board members of sporting events closely monitored these uncertain situations in order to analyze adjustments that could be made to league formats and games. Meanwhile, eager teams and players will have to wait until they can capture glory and honor. 

Immediately responding to the pandemic scenario, the NCAA declared last March 19 that Season 95 was officially terminated. The UAAP followed suit last April 7, scrapping the remainder of Season 82. Moreover, the Philippine Basketball Association, Philippine Superliga, and Philippines Football League have postponed games until further notice. On the other hand, international tournaments such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have been moved to later dates. Officials have willingly decided such in order to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes, coaches, staff, game officials, and fans. 

With the unsettled direction of tournaments, the formats of sporting leagues may be modified to allow games to proceed—alongside the understanding that health standards remain a priority. Many athletes are excited to once again showcase quality skills to entertain the expectant fans and make up for the time away from their beloved careers. Although the whole phenomenon affects the landscape of sports, its foundation remains unshaken.

Unfamiliar territory

Hosting a worldwide sporting conference such as the Olympics requires tedious, long-term preparations. Any minor setback would inevitably cause a delay to the tight scheduling in planning and execution. This year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, originally set to run from July 24 to August 9, cost USD 12.6-billion, with venues having begun construction last December 2016. Canada was the first to withdraw their participation from the Olympics, putting first the health of their athletes. After multiple appeals from different countries, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo representatives finally opted to move the much-awaited event to summer of 2021. 

One of the significant matters that leagues must answer is whether to resume or end the unfinished season. The NBA ceased all of its games and practices beginning March after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the first to test positive in the association. Initially, their arrangement was to play games in arenas without fans. However, erring on the side of caution, Commissioner Adam Silver proclaimed a 30-day hiatus and bared that the season may proceed by mid-June or late July, should the circumstances be deemed safe. With the progress of the NBA left hanging, there are multiple, different options being formulated and taken into consideration to save the remainder of the 74th season.

More than being engaging entertainment for the fans, sports leagues are an avenue of livelihoods for athletes, game officials, and staff. Their careers mainly rely on the continuity of an ongoing season, but with the current scenario, a handful of them may be left without financial support. NBA star Kevin Love and rookie Zion Williamson were one of the first players to give back to their respective arena staff who earn on an hourly basis. In the local setting, CJ Perez of the Columbian Dyip donated P25,000 to gameday employees of the PBA. The jobs and careers of such personnel, especially those from sports with less investment, may also reflect a significant yet overlooked rough patch amid the suspensions. 

As different federations and associations strategize for the “new normal” in sports, some have made significant progress with careful and thorough procedures once games are permitted to resume. Developed by Medical Commission chair Dr. Peter Harcourt, FIBA drafted their own protocols ahead of a possible return. The Return to Basketball guidelines delineate consistent COVID-19 testing, medical monitoring, training with necessary individuals only, and discouraging unnecessary physical touching such as hugs or handshakes. 

Meanwhile, the Premier League has announced that English football action will resume on June 17. Chief Executive Richard Masters said that they have “provisionally agreed for the league to restart.”  All 92 remaining matches will be played behind closed doors but will be broadcasted on selected channels. To ensure their health, players and staff have been strictly undergoing regular testing before awaited matches begin
once again.

On the other hand, the Bundesliga in Germany reopened last May 16, making it the first international football league to officially return to the pitch. The players were required to travel on their own to stadiums during home games, and physical distancing was observed for players on the bench. Normally filled with a multitude of fans, the arena consisted only of team staff, security officials, and broadcasting personnel. Despite initially receiving heavy criticisms, the German league has been a major success for clubs and broadcasters.

End of the road

This year’s UAAP rivalries were expected to be full of exhilarating showdowns and redemption runs with the mix of both dynamic seniors and hungry rookies. For their concluding swan song, graduating players would have been more determined than ever to exit their collegiate stint in a brilliant, dramatic fashion. This leads to the discussion about extending the student-athletes’ eligibility in the UAAP.

With the second half suspended because of the pandemic, many sports teams were not able to tally their final chapters. Adding another playing year for those affected players seems reasonable since the season was not closed properly. Although the age limit is 25 years old, UAAP Board members can consider some leniency for eager collegiate athletes to compete one last time in their respective events, both for the schools’ and the fans’ benefits.

Moreover, UAAP stakeholders believe that the hosting of Season 83 will be affected due to the unceasing pandemic. The suggestion to begin in January 2021 will pave the way for universities to prepare and implement health protocols, while allocating more time for finalizing guidelines and training of teams. With a handful of concerns to be ironed out, the UAAP will be thoroughly probing into possible outcomes and formats for next season.

Various possible adjustments are being looked at for games and competitions to resume in different leagues after interruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis. With the pause still in progress, tournaments are taking steps to keep athletes fit and active and fans engaged, while still bringing the world as one. Despite the pandemic overwhelming our favorite basketball moments, volleyball victories, and football celebrations—sports continue to endure and stay undefeated amid the challenges.

By Jeremiah Dizon

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