Are Non-Contact Sports Safe to Play While Social Distancing?

Friends play tennis together outside (Photo/Julian Schiemann)

Friends play tennis together outside (Photo/Julian Schiemann)

Ritika Kumar, Online Arts Editor

We have been quarantining for two months now, and as a result, many of us are out of games we can play alone or with our families and wondering what we can do with our friends. Such inquiries, consequently, prompt the question: are non-contact sports allowed during this time? In order to figure out if non-contact sports are safe to play with friends while social distancing, though, we first need to make sure that these sports are truly non-contact and low risk in order to secure the safety of athletes. 

Our definition of non-contact has changed over time. In the past, non-contact solely meant that it wasn’t necessary for athletes to come into physical contact with one another, but this criterion will not cut it when dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. It is important to consider whether athletes are touching the same surface or the same object. For some sports, it will be possible to completely avoid direct and indirect contact between players, but when dealing with others, this can be tricky. 

Take tennis for example. While the players are a reasonable distance from one another, it is still likely that the players will touch the same ball while serving. Although this may prove a challenge when dealing with getting back into the “swing” of things (pun intended), there can still be solutions for these sorts of issues. For example, the USTA (United States Tennis Association) lists many precautions that one should take when playing tennis during this time. The Association encourages “play only with family members or others who live in your household or with individuals who are considered to be low risk.” Another recommendation that the USTA lists is that both athletes should have two sets of balls and should keep track of their corresponding tennis balls. Swimming is also a non-contact sport that can be low risk. According to the U.S. Masters Swimming organization, a properly maintained pool will contain disinfection chemicals which will “inactivate the virus.” Thus, not much has to be altered inside of the pool in order for athletes to swim again. Still, they must take precautions when touching other surfaces, such as their swim caps. 

On the other hand, some non-contact sports make it a lot trickier to avoid contact. In volleyball, it is almost impossible to avoid coming into either direct or indirect contact with team members, since the point of the game is to hit the same ball over the net. While volleyball games can’t be held at this time, USA Volleyball has categorized types of practice and play into three categories: low risk, medium risk and high risk. Low risk playing involves individual practice with family members at home and sanitizing personal equipment, medium risk refers to individual practice with family members or non-family members in public areas with personal, sanitized equipment, and high risk means practicing individual skills with any non-household members, not sanitizing the volleyballs, and participating in a team of group play. At this time, playing volleyball with team members is highly risky, and so while athletes can prepare through the help of individual practice, it will be some time before athletes can work together again as teams. 

When dealing with the issue of non-contact sports, we can figure out a way to adapt to many sports in order to suit our current situation. In any case, athletes must be cautious and practice individually before they can come together as a team again. The best that athletes can do at this time is hone in on their skills and strive to be better and improve before next season on their own.

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