Why we shouldn't rush to get back to professional sports

Every morning when I wake up, I visit this website that shows statistics on the Covid-19 cases in Canada. It tells me the total amount of cases, how many people have severe or mild symptoms and even the ratio of recovered to newly infected. Most importantly, it has a graph that shows the amount of daily new cases.

The reason I check this website every morning might not be what you think. Although I do really care about the individuals who are infected by this disease, I can't imagine what is must be like, I consult this website because I am hoping for the infamous "flatten the curve" idea. If you don't know what that is or how it works, there are way better articles and experts for that particular questions, but simply said, if you look at the graph below, if the line becomes flatter (or is negative), we are succeeding at beating this pandemic, if it becomes steeper, we are not and as you can see we are not doing great yet...

Anyway, back to why I want to see that line as flat as possible. It is pretty simple, when that line is flat (or goes down), I might get my life back. The field of sports has been hit particularly hard by this pandemic in the sense that no sport is happening and therefore there is not a lot of demand for my services as a mental performance consultant and coach at the moment. So that line signifies my hope for the return to doing what I love: playing, coaching, watching and helping others succeed in sport. Not the most noble reason to look at the data, I will admit that, but it is the way I feel. This morning after I did my daily check of the website (we might be seeing a bit of a drop!), I went to my second part of my day: reading the global sport news. To my absolute surprise saw some truly unbelievable things...

Professional soccer match played without fans

German first and second division soccer teams have resumed training in order to prepare for a completion of the last 9 rounds of their league, of course to be played behind closed doors. The teams have strict rules to follow, for instance no more than two players are allowed in the locker room at the same time and practices have to be run on multiple fields with a maximum of 5 athletes per field. Games are to be held without any supporters, which sounds great but in reality it means that "only" 239 people would be present at a game, 237 more than the biggest group assemblies allowed in several countries right now.

It seems that these competitions are determined to be able to continue and/or finish these events even is that means putting the athletes, staff and other people involved at unknown risks because let's be clear, we don't know whether doing this is safe. The reason for all of this? Well UFC Boss Dana White said this: "if you lock people up in their house for this long without entertainment, they will go crazy. That is what we want to provide."This seems to be a common reason that is stated when talking about resuming sporting competitions as soon as possible: providing entertainment. Is that a legitimate reason to push competitions and events?

In my personal and professional opinion, entertainment is a terrible ground to push these events on for several reasons. First of all, I don't think that any level of entertainment is worth risking lives of not only the athletes but everyone involved. On top of that, although I love watching live sports, if entertainment is really the goal, I am sure we can get by with replays of great matches played in the past and E-sport events, like a lot of different sports like Formula 1 are doing right now. But lastly and most importantly, the idea that entertainment is thing we are lacking right now, is completely ignoring one of the most well respected psychological foundations: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

For anyone who is not familiar with this concept, the basic idea is that in order to be able to fulfill any level of the pyramid, each level below has to be fulfilled first. So, for instance, in order to work on your self-esteem, you need to have fulfilled the three levels below. Each level is conditional on the levels below being present but what does this have to do with professional sports and the Corona virus?

Let's have a look at where sports entertainment, or in other words a type of fun, feeds into this pyramid. It is not completely clear right away and it differs a lot per person. For a die-hard fan, being a supporter of a certain club or team might provide a sense of connection. For some, it might be even higher up the pyramid and slot into esteem or even self-actualization through creativity. Although we don't know where entertainment sits exactly, we do know that it definitely does not slot into the bottom two: Safety and Physiological needs. However, those are the needs that in a lot of cases are not being met right now, countless people have lost their employment, worry about their health, might struggle to remain in their current living situation. Right now, we are in a situation in which the most basic needs are not being met.

The question is not whether professional sports can be continued in the near future, but whether it should be. If the goal is to provide entertainment for fans during this period it will fail to do so if the lower level needs aren't met. As long as people are still worrying about their health, living situation and employment, society isn't ready to return to sports or even talk about sports right now. That leaves only one reason to do this, money. Ask yourself whether you would want to risk the health of athletes and all other staff involved for the financial gain. Believe me that I want sports to go on, it is such a integral part to my life and occupation but I will not put people in danger if I don't have to. Therefore, we should wait with returning to professional sports until society is ready for it again and not when the promoters, leagues, or investors or even the virus allow us to do so.

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