The COVID-19 pandemic presents safety complications for sporting leagues and organizations attempting to return to play. Southern Miss’s National Center For Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) has taken the initiative to combat these challenges by publishing the “COVID-19 Considerations for Sport and Entertainment Venues and Events”.
The document is a 70 page guide that gives considerations to professionals in the sports industry on a variety of safety issues the NCS4 believes needs to be addressed for sports to safely return during the pandemic.
Interim Director of NCS4 Stacey Hall, Ph.D., explains why the NCS4 worked to create the guide.
“Once COVID-19 halted all sports operations in the US, industry professionals were seeking information and resources on how to safely return participants and spectators to their venues,” Hall said. “Since NCS4 is a leader in the sport and special event security space, we thought it would be prudent to create a task force to develop a considerations guide to assist professionals in their planning efforts.”
Manager of Curriculum Michael Finley coordinated the efforts of assembling the task force for the guide and was instrumental in its development. The other 24 members of the NCS4 task force included various organizations across the country, from the NFL and MLB to universities and police departments.
“We created the Task Force utilizing our partners in the sports and entertainment industries,” Finley said. “We wanted a broad spectrum of personnel representing high schools, colleges, professionals, marathon/endurance and entertainment. We also endeavored to have some diversity by selecting personnel with backgrounds in athletics, facilities, security, law enforcement, medical and event organization.”
The members worked through online meetings and were split into five sub-committees: Spectators, Staff, Participants, Venue and Medical. The task force developed several considerations for each of these subjects, which were categorized into four subgroups: “Pre-event”, “Event”, “Education and Training” and “Policy and Procedures”.
The NCS4 and task force referred to information released by several different health agencies to develop the considerations.
“When we first started this process, we reviewed documents and material from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, European League, FEMA, Interpol and other organizations,” Finley said. “This material formed the basis of our considerations.”
While the document is based on these agencies’ guidelines, the NCS4 maintains that the considerations are for guidance and are not designed to supersede existing laws in specific areas.
“These considerations are to be used in conjunction with federal, state and local mandates as they differ across the country,” Hall said.
The considerations suggest that exterior fan zones and tailgating should be restricted or eliminated if social distancing guidelines cannot be followed. Similar considerations suggest restricting pedestrian flow and attendance to ensure distancing.
“Around the country, we have learned of outbreaks whenever large groups gather, especially when no safety precautions were implemented,” Finley said. “Going forward, the fan experience will be offset by the safety and security of not only the fans but the staff and participants as well.”
Some of the other considerations for staff and participants include creating screening zones, encouraging the use of personal protective equipment and establishing a safe zone that restricts others from entering. The NCS4 also suggests that organizations train their staff and participants on the various safety and sanitation protocols that are implemented.
While the document was released on July 13, the NCS4 is committed to updating it as needed.
“Now, our industry partners are learning and sharing their protocols of what works and what does not work in dealing with COVID-19,” Finley said. “As we learn more, we will continually update our considerations to reflect this.”
Finley notes the importance of fan compliance to the effectiveness of the considerations.
“Even if collectively, we learn the best way to continue, if fans do not comply, those plans are useless,” Finley said. “Our industry partners have shared their concerns over fan compliance, and the impact non-compliance will place on venue staff and security.”
The NCS4 sent a copy of the guide to the athletic department at Southern Miss. Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain says that the considerations are useful in preparation for the upcoming season.
“I think that it’s very helpful and a great piece of information for us to take and digest and really compare it to what we’re seeing in other places,” McClain said. “Around the country, we’re having multiple conversations about how people are handling things […] so it’s an important piece of the puzzle.”
For more information and to stay updated, visit ncs4.usm.edu.