Italian report ranks squash among the most ‘risky’ sports for COVID-19 infection
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Correspondent
With certain countries like Switzerland, Poland, the USA and now Canada publishing ‘return to squash’ guidance for clubs once they get the green light to open their doors, and other countries in the process of working up their own recommendations, the hopes of the squash community have begun to rise.
Indeed, in the case of Switzerland, clubs are set to re-open from this Monday, albeit following a set of strict health guidelines and only allowing certain drills or routines for two-player scenarios which seek to maintain a reasonable distance between the two players.
However, the recent publication of a study undertaken by the Polytechnic University of Turin could prove to pour some cold water over such notions, or at the very least provoke the exercise of a lot more caution.
The report called “Restarting Sport Safely” was commissioned by the Italian National Olympic Committee and sought to evaluate the potential for spread of Coronavirus with every imaginable sporting discipline – 387 of them to be precise so it is a very comprehensive study.
The Turin Polytechnic is a renowned technical university devoted to engineering, science and technology and they released the over 400-page report to the Italian Ministry of Youth and Sports on 28th April.
The study was undertaken with the full cooperation of all the sports governing bodies, who each completed a questionnaire covering all the risk factors. The findings then were used to produce a sort of league table for the dangers of spreading the virus, with a risk score allocated to each sport from 0 to 4: 0 = no risk, 1 = low risk, 2 = average risk, 3 = high risk, 4 = very high risk.
The main factors taken into account to produce the risk scores were the amount of contact between players, the distances between them and the protection measures likely to be put in place to mitigate risks, both for training and during competitive play.
Sports deemed the lowest risk by scoring near to 0 include golf, tennis, horse riding, fishing and sailing. In the low risk bracket with a score around 1 are swimming and cycling, whilst water polo and beach volleyball come in with a moderate risk score of 2. Sports gaining a high-risk score of 3 include football and fencing. However, the list of sports scoring the maximum high-risk score of 4 features boxing, volleyball, basketball and most notably squash.
Squash it seems scored highly on the risk scale for a variety of reasons, most notably the confined space, the proximity of the players to each other and the incidence of heavy breathing and sweating.
Although this report has been produced for the Italian government, it perhaps shines a bit of light on how other countries could progress in terms of allowing the resumption of competitive and leisure sport, bearing in mind the desire to avoid a ‘second spike’ of infection. The Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano speculates that only sports classed as zero or low risk will be permitted to resume first off in Italy.
Notable too is the classification of football as high risk, which could deal a blow to any notion of football completing seasons any time soon. Even sports like tennis, classed as virtually zero risk, might have to be radically different to how it was.
For instance, major safety restrictions will probably be required, such as the wearing of gloves and eyewear, each player having their own set of balls to avoid picking up those of other players and avoiding being at the net at the same time.
Swiss Squash announced on Twitter that “Squash can be played again from 11th May”
As for squash, some national federations have been hard at work trying to come up with a sensible set of safety measures and recommendations to allow clubs to resume some form of squash activity on courts.
However, this classification of the sport as high risk does beg the question as to whether such measures will be enough to provide the necessary reassurance for allowing squash clubs to reopen in the near future.
Perhaps activities will have to be limited initially to solo practice sessions or two-player sessions only when this involves people from the same household?
This would still involve the necessary application of many safety measures, such as cleaning down after each session, avoiding crossover of players as they enter and leave the court, and reasonable gaps between sessions.
But, even then, there is the concern about how long virus particles will remain in the atmosphere on an enclosed squash court. Even allowing for safety guidelines at all times in and around the court, there are mixed messages about taking a shower at the facility.
And it looks like we may all face a long wait before the club bar will be allowed to reopen.
What are your views about how squash could safely return and in what form? Please leave your views in the comments section below.
Thanks for having shared this article. It is predictable but often such predictions are ignored.
I hope that we do not loose generations of great Players to impatience. It would do irreparable harm to a Sport in all its dimensions. One that is already struggling to transition into the top tiers of the Sports World e.g. the Olympics. As well as at the foundations of the sport in Clubs, Coaching, Mentoring, Civic and Urban organizations.
Alan Thatcher and I are documenting the news reports, studies, links, and reasons for this concern.
Eventually the world is going to realise that we cannot hide in our bubbles for ever and that there will always be new pathogens to cope with as our immune systems have been doing for millions of years. The intelligent strategy is to be metabolically healthy as that dramatically reduces your risk. Squash players tend to be pretty fit, but if you’re carrying a few kilos of visceral fat then you should seriously consider going on a Keto Diet to address your vulnerability – and improve your squash fitness as a bonus. For a humorous, rational take on Covid-19 see Bill Maher on https://youtu.be/28I5WyLp15o
Sadly, staying indoors and getting no exercise, plus eating carbs because of boredom will make the risk of an adverse Covid-19 response worse when you do – inevitably – get exposed to it.
It will be interesting to see how many players over the age of 40 are eager to return to squash. It seems simpler–and probably safer–to take up tennis.
The populations are divided on this – half are keen to get back into playing, whatever; the other half are anxious and cautious about entering an environment that has risk. Surely the answer is to provide testing – and then move on with test, track and trace – at each venue. Technology is there and has been used by the South Koreans since the turn of 2020. We can’t wait for a vaccine and the implementation of full immunisation, that will take years. So, lets get on with it.
Thank you for your comment.
Perhaps we can try and say this as carefully and with brevity as is possible. To those who thrive on pressure we know that what follows sounds a bit Lilly Livered.
However, it is not only prudent not ‘to get on with it’ right now there are other pressing reasons not to do so right now.
All those technologies only work when the numbers of infected have dropped below a threshold. South Korea is a nation with small relatively homogenous population. They started with containment, tracking and social isolation when there were only 4 reported cases of COVID-19 infections.
Placing either it’s best or beginner Players and Coaches on tour, into the potential Death Chamber of a Squash Court, would decimate the game. A pause in the game even for 2 years is not lethal. COVID-19 can be lethal.
Furthermore, those population centers around the planet, who do shrug off all the recommended precautions, find that their death rates are being significantly elevated, e.g. Sweden, parts of the USA and Russia. As of last week the global fatalities and infections stood at >250,000 and >1,000,000.
What is more important is that our Players and our game does not put even more pressure on the overextended Health Community. Members of the Health and other Communities risk their lives everyday.
Regardless of age infection with COVID-19 disperses and infects others. Acquired Immunity to COVID-19 is no guarantee for re-infection of those who have recovered. At least some projections of aerosols can travel more than 16 feet under controlled conditions.
COVID – 19 infections are unlike being in a Car Accident or getting shot which cannot have anywhere near as much of a rippling or spreading effect.
Finally, should we start playing right now it would be a Public Relations fiasco. It would further diminish any good will that the game has secured in its bid for recognition in the World of Sports e.g. inclusion in the Olympics. We would sound like those who place their own Sport above all International and Human Interests.
Alan and I are trying to curate links, comments, news reports and scientific reports for an article to be submitted to Squash Mad. It will present the alternatives more completely than is possible with this comment . COVID-19 is not in my Scientific interests. However, in complying with Alan’s request to co-author it, we may have just contributed to our own survival.
Dear Ferez Thank you for your response. I think you may have misunderstood the premise behind my comment. Not for one second am I advocating a return to squash – or any sport – in a gung-ho manner. Far from it, we must proceed with all caution. I was simply pointing out the successful approaches that other countries have taken. My phrase, ‘let’s get on with it’ was indeed strong support in favour of technology as well as the science and medical research and development required to reach a point where we can resume, when it is right to do so.
Dear Ferez POSTSCRIPT I forgot to say that the main reason for my comment was to underline the fact that no matter what treatments become available to counteract COVID-19, both physically and mentally, we will not be sure that it works, for a very long time. Therefore, testing has to be implemented, not only to check the effects, but to provide some element of re-assurance that we can proceed to re-engage in sporting activities.
Thank you for having clarified your comment. You are one of the senior-most authorities in the game. Some of my friends and colleagues are gung-ho Squash Players who were already planning on getting on the court until I sent them this article by James Roberts. They could easily have misconstrued your comments as a signal to get on the court.
We agree that we should pause until ‘ the science and medical research and development required to reach a point where we can resume, when it is right to do so.’
Allow us the leeway and time to present all the dimensions more completely so those who care to can evaluate the situation for themselves.
Thank you for your response.This is in response to your postscript.
We agree that at this point there is too much that is fluid – including testing to make any decisions. The accepted figure among Epidemiologists and Virologists is that either via vaccination or infection, for an effective downturn in the infection rates, at least 70% of the population has to become immune to COVID – 19,
We had addressed this in an earlier comment but testing, either for the virus, or for antibodies to the virus, or the viral RNA and others is fallible. Some tests only have 5% success rate! All tests have a false positive and a false negative failure rate of 2.5% the latter of which could cause infection rates to balloon.
Furthermore, the virus survives on hard surfaces and so Players who test negative for COVID-19 can still be the carriers who bring it onto the court.
An earlier comment related to ‘Herd Immunity’ also has serious flaws. Herd Immunity is the immunity developed by a major segment of the population that can withstand the viral infection e.g. a predominantly young population as that of India. However, young people can also be fatally infected as can those who were previously infected (as stated earlier).
The virus itself is mutating, hopefully into a form (serotype/haplotype) that has a much lower biological impact (persistence, tissue range, pathogenicity and virulence). But it can also be forma of the virus that escape immune recognition and defense systems of those who are infected.
However, we are dealing with the enormity of this undertaking, with ad hoc responses. We need to vet and curate the information that we already have, before assembling it as a single article submitting that article to readers for their consideration.
I think i had covid right at the beginning. most symptoms but didn’t develop into breathing issues. If we could have a “tested immune” that would be a great way for at least some of us to get back playing. in 43 years i have never played for so long and am desperate to get back on court and support our clubs
There are many ways to play modified versions of the sport and lower risks. However, there are four points as I see it:
Who takes on the liability of someone getting sick? Members or staff? Who will take on this burden? College athletic directors, private club boards, commercial club owners?
For the small percent of super keen players, they will play in whatever fashion they can. But, for the average once a week hackers, the “new normal” may just make the sport less enjoyable and drive them to other activities or to play less.
In commercial clubs, where squash court space is often not profitable or underused, any dip and usage may result in repurposing courts. Hackers or casual players may not see the value in paying for a membership to play a modified version of the sport, especially with an element of risk.
I think there needs to be little to no fear to bring the masses/hackers back (not the keeners, who will want to play regardless) This will require social proof in a big way and some sort of scientific breakthrough.
Here is hoping this happens!