QF’s global health initiative addresses opportunities and challenges associated with hosting mega sporting events
Will sports ever return to a pre-COVID-19 state or is the world facing a new normal indefinitely? This was the topic that industry experts from around the globe gathered to discuss at a WISH 2020 panel that was looking at the future of sporting events.
The discussion, titled Health Challenges of Major Sporting Events, was a subject of particular relevance to the country as it gears up to host the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
During the session, panelists addressed how governments, policymakers, and healthcare systems must work together in the lead up to and during an event to protect the health of spectators – using event planning efforts as an opportunity to design and put in place a lasting health and public health legacy in the host cities and countries. And, importantly, ensure that knowledge gained is shared with future hosts to build on each other’s experiences.
Abby Hoffman, Senior Executive, Ministry of Health, Canada, said, “The reputational opportunities that come with hosting a mega-event are far greater than economic ones, especially for newly emerging economic powerhouses.
“But as is the case for any mass gathering there are considerable health risks associated with mass gatherings. We have seen this and continue to see it as the COVID-19 pandemic forces the sports world to deal with the most extreme situation of risk and uncertainty it has ever faced.”
Tina Endericks, Head of Global Health Security, Public Health England, spoke about using mega sporting events to create a health legacy, she said: “Such events offer valuable opportunities to create awareness amongst the public, one way to do this is by using celebrity profiles at major sporting events to help promote better public health behaviors, this is especially effective for the younger generation.
I think we've learned that, going forward, considering communicable diseases is absolutely critical in preparing for events
Hoffman added, “We have so underutilized technology that could be rolled out in stadia to engage with people in a fun but informative and meaningful manner, and there's an appetite to improve that dramatically. There is a bit of waiting time for the spectators to actually get to their seats after entering the stadium, this time should be used to meaningfully engage with spectators about sports and health related topics.”
Commenting on the ongoing pandemic and planning future sports events, Prof. Lucille Blumberg, Deputy Director of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said: “I think we've learned that, going forward, considering communicable diseases is absolutely critical in preparing for events. You need staff with infection prevention and control training and diagnostics that are accessible. It's about being prepared to respond swiftly and not being taken by surprise.”
The reality is we will not revert to anything that we've had in the past. There will be a new normal – one in which we are better prepared.
Speaking about the future of sporting events, Hoffman said: “The reality is we will not revert to anything that we've had in the past. There will be a new normal – one in which we are better prepared. Going forward, we will need to be better at anticipating the possibilities and having plans in place to accommodate whatever situation faces us.”
Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate, Sports Grounds Safety Authority, said “The solution has got to be localized. The one-size-fits-all in terms of risk isn't going to work.
“Authorities will need to look at and factor in local prevalence and then look at the ability of a specific venue to carry off an event - this plays in largely to the competence of the safety management team that would be in charge of looking after the numbers of fans coming back.”
Prof. Hoffman stressed that lessons from the experiences of host country organizers and international sports bodies as they execute events during the pandemic will be invaluable – and that multisectoral collaboration is a key success factor.
Concluding, she said: “I think for 2021, we need to be pragmatic but careful. Things will improve in 2022 hopefully, we need sporting games to restart.”