WHO says large sports crowds this year “unrealistic”

World Health Organisation Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

The World Health Organisation said it is “unrealistic” to expect large numbers of spectators to attend sports events this year in countries still affected by “community-level transmission” of Covid-19.

Speaking in a live online discussion, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said it could be “disastrous” to allow the return of sports with tens of thousands of people attending.

AFP reported that Ryan said, “Large crowds of 40, 50, 60,000 people – it’s not just the risk of being in the stadium, it’s the risk of going to the stadium, the public transport, the bars and the clubs.”

Ryan said he expected sports venues to begin by allowing low numbers of fans, around 1,000 or 2,000, to enter. “We all want our sport back,” he said. “We’re just going to have to be careful for a good bit longer.”

To date, limited numbers of fans have been allowed back into sports events in several countries under strict anti-virus guidelines.

Baseball and football leagues in both Japan and South Korea have reopened stadiums to fans. In Australia, fans have been allowed into stadiums to watch rugby union, Australian Football League, National Rugby League and A- League matches.

Following its postponement in February, the Vietnamese football league, V.League 1, returned to packed crowds in June. A recent Covid-19 outbreak in Danang, however, has forced authorities to once again suspend all football matches in the country.

On the back of its success in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand lifted restrictions on supporters attending Super Rugby Aotearoa games, which kicked off in June. Over 55,000 fans attended the first two games. This has continued without a significant rise in Covid-19 community cases in the country.