23. WOULD FOOTBALL HELP?

Vicente, an old man and a widower, has been unable to meet his three children for more than 50 days: a police officer, a nurse and a supermarket cashier. He has also not seen his grandchildren in this period of time. These days of confinement, in addition to being sad, have upset him since he heard that all professional football players would have tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. If his children had access to these tests, they could visit him with ease. Vicente doesn’t like football, but that’s not the issue. Something like that would upset anyone.

Taking into account that crowded closed spaces and coexistence in short distances are two of the greatest risk factors for being infected with COVID-19, football players are less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 than others. Also at risk would be professionals from other occupations, who will also gradually return to their jobs. However, footballers will be more protected by having frequent RT-PCR tests, and by being in an age range where COVID-19 complications are very rare. For this reason, Vicente writhes in his chair every time he hears that thousands of tests are being carried out on planet football. He thinks that footballers are not to blame, but he feels that the business behind the sport is selfish and not very supportive. But what if the return of football could help?

At the moment there are many uncertainties about whether the measures we will take to return to “normality” will be sufficient to continue stopping the pandemic. The damn R0 number —which determines the propagation capacity— of the SARS-CoV-2 must be lowered based on measures such as social distancing, masks, frequent handwashing, etc. But, will this be enough? Or are they excessive measures? How dangerous is it to travel by bus or plane? What if the footballers help us learn more about COVID-19?

In the next two months, the footballers, and the workers that surround them on a daily basis, could help us to carry out a valuable study where almost 2,000 individuals (in La Liga) would be monitored, providing information on the effectiveness of the new protocols. It is a scenario where everyone wins: the players are more protected by the tests and by the monitoring of specialists, and the rest of society would have access to scientific data that would facilitate our daily lives.

This would require specialized scientists, such as epidemiologists, virologists or statisticians, and subsidized research. Another welcome gesture from the world of football would be to offer some free tests to the population, or to their fans, on the days that football players do not need/use them. Doing something like this, in the eyes of the public, would show that this season everyone can be champions. So perhaps Vicente* will go out on the balcony one day and dedicate his applause at eight o’clock to those kids who are so supportive and brave, who helped us to return to normality. Perhaps footballers, and their sport, are about to be given the opportunity to receive the applause of their lives.

* Vicente does not exist, or perhaps he does.

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