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#Sport4Recovery aims to unite stakeholders and push for sport’s safe return

Medics look on from empty stands during the Serie A match between Juventus and Torino FC. The Italian league is a signatory to the #Sport4Recovery programme. (Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images).

  • Infront agency among 15 stakeholders to make case for safe return of sporting events and opening of facilities
  • Initiative not just about professional sport, but the whole ecosystem, from top athletes to weekend runners
  • Push aims to highlight social and health benefits of sport as well as the economic ones

Wherever sporting competitions have resumed after lockdown, it has been regarded as a major milestone in a country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. But many of the gains have been piecemeal –  individual rights-holders working independently with governments and authorities to decide when resumption was safe and responsible.

Last month, the Infront agency announced its involvement in a new initiative, christened #Sport4Recovery, designed to change this by bringing together 15 sport federations, organisations and other stakeholders in order to share knowledge and best practice for restarting. The aim of the campaign, which is designed for all stakeholders and agencies across the industry, is to take collective action in assisting governments and decision makers who are trying to balance the interests of public safety with the economic, health and social benefits of sport.

Sarah Lewis, secretary general of the International Ski Federation (FIS), one of the founding partners of the campaign, says that Infront pitched the idea as “the ideal opportunity to be able to align with other stakeholders from all across the sporting ecosystem and expand the message we’ve all been trying to push to a wider community.”

Everyone within sport, Lewis says, “has been focused on preparing contingencies, preparing our structures so that they are in place in order to bring back events safely and swiftly”, but adds that by uniting the efforts of multiple diverse stakeholders to do this, “it’s a show of the fact that we are all ready to stand by and work with governments and authorities and do this in a collaborative way”.

The signatories to #Sport4Recovery include high-profile domestic leagues, such as Italian football’s Serie A, international governing bodies like the FIS and the International Basketball Federation (Fiba), and smaller organisations such as French amateur five-a-side football body Le Five. The involvement of these smaller entities is crucial to the goals and success of the movement, according to Patrick Comninos, chief executive of the Basketball Champions League, another founding partner of the programme.

“Sport works in a vertical manner in society,” he says. “From your elite athletes down to the kids that just want to see the doors of the gym unlocked so they can go and enjoy themselves, it goes without saying that sport plays such a pivotal role. When sport is alive and well, communities, societies, they have an opportunity to become engaged. It is important for sport to have a unified voice that this initiative is trying to put in place, so that it can be an enabler that will allow a steady return to normality.”

Patrick Comninos, chief executive of the Basketball Champions League, one of the founding partner of the #Sport4Recovery programme.

Creating a dialogue

#Sport4Recovery has not been designed as a “pressure group” to lobby governments, says Comninos, but instead is focused on demonstrating how safe restarts can happen, sharing knowledge and experience with other sports bodies and with relevant authorities.

He points to the fact that several domestic basketball competitions have already resumed – Germany, China, New Zealand and Spain among them – and says that Sport4Recovery offers these leagues, which “are in being played in countries with different environments and at different points of their recovery”, a straight-forward means to share learnings and data with other rights-holders.

“We are receiving data and information on how those efforts to restart basketball are going, and we want to make those answers available to everyone, within basketball, within other sports, and in governments,” he says. “We’re working closely with all team sports, whether it’s outdoor ones like football or indoor ones like handball, to align ourselves all in the same direction, because this vision and this mission is common to all.”

It is important that the range of organisations involved in #Sport4Recovery represent a diverse range of interests, Lewis says. “It’s not about everyone following the same model, not at all. We are all very different and have very different needs and different challenges to face. But there are points of similarity as well and certainly a lot of connections, and you take on board ideas and systems that are in place from other sports and, I believe, quite a few have been able to benefit from our experience in that regard as well.”

#Sport4Recovery has already enabled FIS to distribute its existing Covid-19 guidance more widely and add the learnings of others to its own handbook, Lewis adds.

“We had really basic guidelines in place for the events which were taking place from mid-February onwards,” she says, “which was essentially just a one-page document that said ‘follow the instructions of the authorities.’ Now we’ve been able to observe a few events taking place and add a bit more meat to the bones, something that will clearly accelerate as we work more closely with our partners in #Sport4Recovery and as more events get back up and running and report back on how they’ve managed.”

Sarah Lewis, secretary general, FIS.

Working with authorities

While simply getting sport up and running again is part of the goal of #Sport4Recovery, Comninos admits that a key element is working alongside governments and local authorities to ultimately find a way to allow fans back into arenas.

“This initiative highlights many of the important aspects of sport, from the social point of view, health point of view, but we can’t forget that there is also an economic point of view,” he says. “Now that many public spaces are starting to open again in many countries, one thing we are working on together is convincing governments that if malls can be open, if airports and trains can be open, then sporting events and facilities should be safe to do so as well.

“This is where we are now collecting data, we are making ourselves available, we are implementing specific guidelines and proposing new measures to make these places safe: testing at the entrance, using a limited number of concession stands because this is where mass gatherings are more prominent, implementing greater distances between seats, providing hand sanitiser.”

Sport, says Lewis, must present itself as a “responsible citizen” and not push too hard for spectators to return before it is completely safe. “Particularly when it comes to the event organisation side of things, it’s such a sensitive area. We fully share the principle that sport must be humble, we need to listen and to understand that we aren’t experts when it comes to public health and pandemics, so clearly the health authorities have the say when it comes to these decisions. Our goal is simply to demonstrate how we are willing and able to integrate their guidance.”

Comninos agrees: “We just want to make ourselves available to all the relevant decision makers and to demonstrate that we are ready, we are able, we have the mechanisms in place in order to go back and offer what sport is supposed to offer.”

One of the key points #Sport4Recovery is making, she says, is that sporting events, particularly large-scale ones organised by professional rights-holders, already adhere to many of the criteria that governments and health authorities are suggesting. “Sport events are structured and organised. They have regulations, rules, accreditation, limited access-defined areas, and therefore they already fulfil many of the conditions put in place for other sectors of society, most of which aren’t used to these kinds of constraints.”

Infront and #Sport4Recovery has offered the sport world an opportunity to “demonstrate that we have already done our homework and done our preparation, prepared guidelines, we have protocols in place, so that sport can reopen,” says Comninos. “At the end of the day, this is a process. We just want to make ourselves available to all the relevant decision makers and to demonstrate that we are ready, we are able, we have the mechanisms in place in order to go back and offer what sport is supposed to offer.

While the present situation has sown chaos throughout the sporting world, Lewis says she has been given hope by the willingness of stakeholders from across the sector to unite and help each other fight for a common goal. “What we’ve seen actually over the last three months is the interaction with the local organising committees, with the national associations, with the rights holders for the events, with the locations, the venues, the towns, in our case the ski resorts – just how much everyone has really come together.”

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