Covid impact: Sports industry takes a beating too

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Covid impact: Sports industry takes a beating too

Wednesday, 02 September 2020 | ACHYUTA SAMANTA

When I was growing up, a sport was considered as a means for social development. It was a tool through which a child could improve their health and learn the importance of discipline and team spirit. In addition, these days, sports have become a means for economic development. The race for hosting sporting events helps the country expand its infrastructure and create several employment opportunities. On a global level, a sport has also become a valuable tool for encouraging communication and building bridges between communities.

Earlier this year, the world of sports received a serious jolt with the Covid- 19 pandemic and its subsequent effects of lockdown, social distancing and isolation. All professional leagues and other tournaments, be it international, zonal or State have been suspended. These cancellations and suspension of tournaments, including pay-cuts to sports club staff and players, the pandemic, have affected the sports industry significantly. The postponement of high profile events such as the Tokyo Olympics and the cancellation of Wimbledon for the first time since World War II depicts the gravity of the situation that we are in. Keeping in mind that we are in the middle of a pandemic, I would like to highlight the two major issues related to sports, that is, mental health of athletes and the business aspect of the sporting industry.


Mental health and athletes

During this lockdown athletes, instead of travelling and training for competition, are seen spending time with their families, pets and taking to social media to keep the otherwise disappointed fans and followers motivated. Their practice is now limited to exercise at home. While some athletes have even been infected by the disease and had to undergo quarantine, others managed to travel back home before the lockdown was imposed. With no resumption of competitive matches, it must be difficult for an athlete to maintain the same level of mental focus and physical fitness levels. Most top athletes have their private gymnasium and other training equipment but a vast majority of athletes do not have such facilities in their home or even open spaces for rigorous workout. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns must have definitely taken a toll on their tempo and vigour. Still, I believe that taking care of one's body is possible while being stuck at home. Maybe the intensity would not be the same but physical training to some extent is possible. However, what about mental health?

In my view the issue of mental health among athletes has not been properly addressed. It is one aspect of sports that has been ignored. However, with the lockdown, many athletes and sports psychologists are opening up about mental health issues. We have to understand that the life of a sportsperson involves a lot of focus, training and reviewing strategy. Their mind is wired in such a manner that they constantly think of the next training session, areas in which they have to work upon. Like in cricket, a batsman will focus on one ball at a time and for a person involved in professional shooting, the focus will be one shot at a time.

Apart from honing their technical skills, an athlete is constantly monitored by nutritionists and conditioning/fitness coaches to ensure that they are eating the right kind of food and are maintaining their game match fitness. Therefore, for an athlete, lack of competition, and postponement of tournaments, social anxiety and isolation due to the lockdown could take a toll on their mental health. With the temporary suspension on competitive sport, there is a lack of goals, therefore, the athletes have nothing to focus on.  Nevertheless, not all is lost. It is only because of the ability of a sportsperson to endure any challenges through discipline, perseverance and ability to accept fall, one can be a bit optimistic in these times. However, at the end of the day, athletes are human beings and with lack of goals and competition, chances are that they might feel low.

This lockdown presents an opportunity for sportspersons to spend more time with their friends and family in an otherwise extremely busy schedule. In addition, this lockdown could prove to be a great opportunity for athletes to learn new skills. These skills could range from something relevant to their sport or it could just be about learning new things, like learning to play a new instrument or learn to cook or even learn a new language.


Business of sports

In today’s time, nearly all sporting activities have sponsorship or some kind of commercial venture. We see sporting events, teams and individual players showcasing logos of various corporate and even appear on television. It is a fact that commercialisation has now become part of the modern game. With the spread of Covid - 19, the business of sports has taken a severe hit. The three major income streams for sports – Broadcasting (Sale of Media Rights) Commercial (Sponsorship and Advertising), and Match Day Revenue (Ticketing and Hospitality) are in doldrums because of cost cutting. In 2018, the global value of the sports industry was estimated to be $471 billion - a sharp increase of 45 percent compared to 2011.  However, with the global spread of Covid- 19, every aspect of sport - from athletes to teams to leagues, including media and broadcasters has been affected. The pandemic has plunged the business of sports into a long-term financial crisis.

Though broadcasting and commercial activity form the major source of income for the sports industry, they are not the only ones losing out financially. Numerous clubs, both big and small, coaching staff, and players are losing out as well. In a professional league, irrespective of the sport, the organising body disburses the total income generated by the league to the clubs that participate. This ensures that the clubs have a minimum flow of revenue in addition to income generated from competing in tournaments, sponsorship deals, and the sale of merchandise. However, the longer the lockdown, the lesser the chances for clubs to meet their commitment to fans and broadcasters. No games would result in no television deals and no match-day income. While clubs are working tirelessly to keep themselves afloat, professional athletes are taking pay cuts to survive this ordeal. Hopefully things will get better soon, allowing clubs and players to concentrate on the field and be able to earn their wages so that they can take care of their families.

The next question that arises is ‘When can sports resume?’ One of the ideas that have been mooted is playing in front of empty stadiums. Though it will be odd for a player to perform with no live audience, there does not seem to be a way out of this. We are now slowly entering a phase where countries have allowed the resumption of sporting activities. Some might question whether sport really matters in these dark times? For some, sports might act as a therapy - an event which makes one feel less lonely and encourages togetherness. The fact remains, sporting activities have resumed in some parts of the world. Therefore, it is important that paramount importance is given to the protection of players and the coaching staff. At the same time, the Government, trainers and sports federations across the world should also lend their support to the sportspersons and extend a hand of solidarity to sail through these tough times.


(Dr Samanta is MP, Kandhamal, and founder, KIIT & KISS)

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