1887
Volume 2022, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 0253-8253
  • EISSN: 2227-0426

Abstract

Background: Elite professional sports events involving mass gatherings carry a high risk of viral transmission during the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. We describe the potential impact of resuming professional football leagues involving international participants adhering to a strict protocol and investigate the consequences of spectators/fan attendance at such mass events during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Qatar.

Methods: We conducted a descriptive cohort study involving football players, referees, match officials, local organizing committee (LOC) members, hotel and security staff working in close coordination, and over 10,000 spectators from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (East) and the final match. The study covered almost four weeks of the event (November 19 to December 19, 2020) under a robust protocol. It included extensive severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) every 3–6 days and clinical symptom monitoring on and off the field. Target variables included positive RT-PCR results and clinical symptom monitoring among participants, and rapid antigen testing for fan attendance to examine their safe return to the stadiums.

Results: A total of 12,250 RT-PCR tests involving 3158 individuals in the were done over one month for all the AFC (East) matches, including the final match. Overall, 44 matches involving 16 teams were played. During the championship, only five individuals (three LOC members and two match officials) returned positive for COVID-19 infections. Four individuals (three team staff/officials and one person outside the Bio-secure bubble) had reactive results. None of the players tested positive for COVID-19 infection. All individuals testing positive were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, with no one requiring hospitalization other than symptomatic treatment. The overall positivity rate was 0.15% for the entire duration of the AFC (East) Champions League. For the final match, a total of 10,320 rapid antigen tests were done for spectators, of which only one test was positive for COVID-19.

Conclusions: This report shows a very low incidence rate of COVID-19 infections during mass gathering events at the international level. For the resumption of football with spectators, careful mitigation strategies should be considered to reduce the risk of transmission to a sufficiently safe level. This may require proper coordination and measures (i.e., physical distancing, testing, entry, and exit routes in the stadium, and seating arrangement inside the stadium with limited attendance). Based on this, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the supervised and controlled resumption of football matches with spectators can be done safely provided that a strict protocol has been implemented.

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2022-07-28
2022-08-15
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