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Making Soccer Safer in the Era of New Normality

The recent experience of an amateur German soccer team that sent seven socially distant players to face a rival on the field showed that this measure probably won’t work too well for most (the COVID-19-fearing team lost 37-0). Soccer is by nature a contact sport; one in which players often have to get close together to defend the goalpost, battle for a header, or get up close to opposing team members to attempt to ‘steal’ the ball. It may not be possible to play well and keep the recommended social distance of two feet, but there are many steps that soccer clubs and players alike can take to reduce the chances of COVID-19 contagion.

Ensuring Lockers and Changing Rooms are Clean

Soccer clubs can do plenty to keep lockers, bathrooms, and changing rooms virus-free. They can take their cue from professional antiviral cleaning teams, who both clean and disinfect shared spaces in offices, clubs, hotels, and the like. If a COVID-19 infection is found among players, clubs should ensure that changing rooms, furniture, and other shared furniture are cleaned with soap and water then disinfected. Disinfection involves using specific products such as alcohol-based or chlorine solutions. Garbage bags and bins should be removed quickly and particular attention should be given to doorknobs, locker handles, and other surfaces that are commonly handled by various people.

Educating Staff and Player Families

Both staff and players/their families should be aware of when to stay home. If they have tested positive for COVID-19 or they are showing symptoms of infection (including a fever) they should stay home and monitor their health. They should contact a healthcare provider and get tested for the virus if recommended to do so. If staff at a soccer club is suspected of infection, then the club should contact their occupational health provider or consult with the local or state health department, since different jurisdictions may have their own guide and norms for testing.

Taking Proactive Steps to Reduce Infection

Clubs should inform players of the importance of masks (indoors or where social distances cannot be maintained), washing hands frequently, and hand sanitizing gel (when washing is impossible). Masks may be difficult or impossible to wear when players are running and sweating intensely. If so, players should aim to exercise outdoors or in areas which have excellent ventilation. Trainers can also vary training routines, focusing more on building individual skills (including kicking and dribbling the ball) as opposed to group skills. They can request that players keep at a specific distance from each other when on the bench, inside lockers rooms, and the like. Clubs should ask players not to congregate before or after games.  

Sharing Isn’t Caring

Finally, players should be encouraged to pack their sports bags mindfully so that they do not need to ask other players for items such as gloves, socks, balls, towels, and other items that may have been handled. They should also be told to immediately wash their sports gear, disinfect shoes if possible with a disinfectant spray, and wash knapsacks/gym bags frequently. Gym bags can pick up a host of viruses as they are frequently placed on the ground, on benches, and other areas that may contain viruses.

Soccer is a contact sport and therefore, one in which social distancing may be impossible to maintain. Soccer clubs can still reduce players’ risks of infection in many ways. They can hold all games outdoors, stress the importance of social distancing between games, educate players on hygiene, and keep lockers and other commonly used areas clean. Masks should be worn indoors and hand washed or disinfected frequently.

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