Shining the ball with saliva or sweat will be restricted in Australia under a framework released by the federal government about the staged return of both professional and recreational sport amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidelines, drawn up by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in conjunction with medical experts, sporting bodies and federal and state governments, outline a staged return to play at all levels, hastened by the desires of the winter football codes in particular to return in time to salvage some of their seasons.
They will have international implications, and follow the revelation on ESPNcricinfo last week that cricket administrators were actively considering the possibility of allowing the ball to be polished with artificial substances to reduce the risks associated with using saliva on the ball and then passing it around the field of play.
Under the AIS framework, restrictions on sport are currently outlined as being at “Level A” restricting all training except that of the individual kind. But there will soon be a move to “Level B”, potentially little more than a week from now, which will allow the following: “Nets — batters facing bowlers. Limit bowlers per net. Fielding sessions — unrestricted. No warm up drills involving unnecessary person-person contact. No shining cricket ball with sweat/saliva during training.”
The third and final “Level C”, to be permitted later in the year, is outlined as: “Full training and competition. No ball shining with sweat/saliva in training.”
These step by step returns will run alongside government decisions about when and how. The NRL is set to be the first sport to return to action, having flagged a May 28 return date for the competition, which will be reduced to 20 rounds. The AFL is currently debating some of the logistical issues around its own return.
Intriguingly, cricket as a non-contact sport may actually be permitted to return before the winter codes, leaving the northern states open to play. The Australian team’s next scheduled matches in Australia were slated to be as part of a limited-overs series against Zimbabwe in August.
“Sport makes an important contribution to the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of Australians,” the framework report states. “The economic contribution of sport is equivalent to 2-3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on communities globally, leading to significant restrictions on all sectors of society, including sport. Resumption of sport can significantly contribute to the re-establishment of normality in Australian society.
“The principles outlined in this document apply equally to high performance/professional level, community competitive and individual passive (non-contact) sport. The AIS Framework is a timely tool for ‘how’ reintroduction of sport activity will occur in a cautious and methodical manner, to optimise athlete and community safety. Decisions regarding the timing of resumption of sporting activity (the ‘when’) must be made in close consultation with Federal, State/Territory and Local Public Health Authorities. The priority at all times must be to preserve public health, minimising the risk of community transmission.”
Standards for a return to elite sport are also a part of the report, which dictates how athletes contracting Covid-19 may be dealt with, and precautions that will continue to need to be taken even after full competitive sport is permitted to resume.
“The resumption of sport and recreation activities will be a complex process. A careful stepwise process needs to be implemented to ensure the safety of athletes and other personnel and the wider community,” the report states. “Preparation for resumption includes education of the athletes and other personnel, assessment of the sport environment and agreement on training scheduling to accommodate social distancing.
“The approach to training should focus on ‘get in, train, get out’, minimising unnecessary contact in change rooms, bathrooms and communal areas. Prior to resumption, sporting organisations should have agreed protocols in place for management of illness in athletes and other personnel. Special consideration should be made for para-athletes and others with medical conditions as they may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Clubs and individuals should apply a graded return to mitigate injury risk, understanding that sudden increase in training load will predispose to injury.
“Individuals should not return to sport if in the last 14 days they have been unwell or had contact with a known or suspected case of COVID-19. Any individual with respiratory symptoms (even if mild) should be considered a potential case and must immediately self-isolate, have COVID-19 excluded and be medically cleared by a doctor to return to the training environment.
“Athletes returning to sport after COVID-19 infection require special consideration prior to resumption of high intensity physical activity.”
Australia and New Zealand have been two of the world’s least-affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic. After being one of the first nations exposed to the virus, border closures, social distancing measures and business and large scale gathering shutdowns have helped to bring the virus to a standstill relative to events in the UK, United States and India.