Sports Reawaken In a Different World

The eighteen swimmers entered the outdoor pool area in an eternal procession, taking every care to stay 3 meters away from each other. On their way to each of the lanes assigned to them individually, the Mission Viejo Nadadores team observed the gigantic board.

On the screen where his successes and failures are often illuminated, his coach, Mark Schubert, had left a message: “May the new normal teach us to be grateful for the things the old normal taught us to take for granted.”

Across the United States and across the globe, sports are slowly waking up from their two-month hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. As countries begin to relax restrictions on emergency closings that were aimed at containing the spread of the contagion, soccer teams in Germany, Spain and Italy have returned to training in hopes of resuming their seasons, professional golfers are considering a return to competition in late June and professional tennis players on tour learned this week that the altered version of a season is in the works. On Tuesday, professional baseball started again in South Korea; On Friday, some NBA training facilities could open, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship and NASCAR plan to hold events this month without fans on campus.


However, the sports world is a monster with many tentacles and its return to life is characterized by unequal circumstances. While golfers living in some parts of the United States have essentially had uninterrupted access to the courses, their colleagues from other states or other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have been limited, at most, to hitting a teaspoon in the nets from their backyards.

There are tennis players, swimmers, and track athletes who have access to personal facilities or reopened public spaces, while others in neighboring counties, states, or countries remain highly restricted. Austria has opened the Olympic training centers. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has not decided when it will open its own.

However, any psychological benefits of returning from sports must be weighed against the potential physical harm.

In an interview last week, Jonathan Finnoff, the medical director of the USOPC, commented that because the restrictions were reduced, “there are likely to be outbreaks and we must anticipate that will happen.”

This week, those fears gained strength in Germany, when ten players from the country’s soccer league were found to have the virus after conducting widespread tests on 1,724 people from 36 teams. Anton Olsson, the captain of his hometown team, Orebro, in the Swedish third division, has watched with growing unease as other countries relax their restrictions. “It’s frustrating,” said Olsson, whose team continued training during the pandemic under Sweden’s laxest restrictions.