South Korea’s baseball season has begun, giving the world an indication of what sports may be like until the coronavirus epidemic has passed. The Korea Baseball Organization games started broadcasting on May 4 and will be simulcast in the United States, with games broadcast on ESPN typically starting at 1 AM or 4 AM six times per week. They will have English broadcasters designated for American audiences.
The games are being played to empty stadiums during this stage of the nation’s recovery. Players are disallowed from giving each other high-fives, a traditional part of the game in South Korea, as in many other nations. Coaches and players alike are regularly tested for development of the disease. Players are disallowed from signing autographs for the remainder of the season. Referees are required to wear masks. In an effort to recapture some of the sense of community normally present at the games, images of fans have been placed in the empty seats, and pre-recorded crowd noise has been piped in.
Still, there is baseball. It is not expected to remain the only sport being played. Their soccer league has worked out basic rules, also predicated on extra testing and restrictions such as individual labeling of equipment and water bottles. Soccer – “football” in Korea and most of the world – will be returning on Friday.
Meanwhile, Australia, having successfully flattened their curve with testing, contact tracing and isolation, is also looking to restart various sports, as is New Zealand. The greatest sports concern in Australia is not whether the sports will return, but rather when, and in what venues… because of the delay in opening their football season, it will possibly overlap with their cricket season. As many fields host both games, leagues are attempting to clear potential scheduling conflicts.
In Europe, one of Germany’s premeire football leagues is expected to restart on May 15, with virtually empty stadiums, extra testing and stringent personal contact limits like those of South Korea. To accommodate the desires of fans while maintaining distancing, a limit of 330 fans will be allowed to attend any game. This is expected to be a more significant bellwether for many countries than the Korean events, because there is a lower level of containment in Germany. German rules are accounting for the likelihood that other players will test positive and are attempting to counter that with their testing and off-field restrictions.
The decision on whether to restart will be made by Chancellor Merkel on Wednesday. The greatest hurdle is likely to be the recent announcement that ten of the players have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. This may be seen as a test of the measures which have been put in place to fight transmission.
As they contain the virus, countries throughout the world are returning to normal. As yet there is no indication that America is going to make any serious efforts to contain the virus, and the future of American sports remains in limbo.