Sports Events in Education City During the Pandemic

(Photo/ Boston Children’s Hospital)

In Spring 2020, Qatar Foundation (QF) halted all sports leagues indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly a year later, the resumption of collegiate sports remains unclear.

Qatar Foundation released a statement in September 2020 announcing the reopening of community facilities to the public. Per the statement, “users are urged to adhere to public health guidelines at all times, and Qatar Foundation will closely monitor the situation and review the operation of its facilities and activities if necessary.”

Under the guidelines, guests are required to present their green status on the Ehteraz application and practice physical distancing indoors as outlined by the State of Qatar. According to the Ministry of Public Health, visitors must keep at least five feet away from others and no physical contact is allowed, including handshakes or hugs.

As a result, EC sports teams and student clubs are unable to meet for training and games, particularly in the case of indoor sports like futsal and basketball.

Dr. Amit Abraham, an instructor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, stresses the risk of spreading the virus by engaging in a physical activity indoors.

“A lot of people [are] working out sweating, panting and breathing heavily in a congested pace. So that increases the risk of us exchanging the virus much more than it was outdoors,” he said.

Since most team sports exceed the 15-person limit imposed under QF guidelines, organizers are faced with difficulty when hosting events indoors.

“COVID impacted the basketball teams only negatively since we are not allowed to practice officially, and we can’t play as freely as we used to. Now, we have to have a certain amount of people on the court only when we play, as well as have restricted timing,” said John Kwack, the vice president of the basketball club at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

With a surge in coronavirus cases this January, the Qatar government reimposed restrictions on Feb. 4.

Previously, per a Government Communications Office press release, indoor sports training and events were capped at 40 people. Under the new rules, that limit is now 20 people, posing a challenge for team sports.

Due to the new regulations, several QF services that were previously open to the public, such as the bowling alley and the table tennis facilities, have been closed.

“QF follows MOPH and Health, Safety, Security & Environment (HSSE) guidelines and takes a conservative approach to ensure the safety of its community,” Nathalie S. Tannous, the operations and customer experience supervisor at QF, said in an email.

Tannous also highlighted QF’s monitoring and contact tracing efforts to contain the virus in consultation with the MOPH and HSSE.

In the current situation, the timeline for the return of team sports looks uncertain, according to Alexandru Rosca, the head of sports programming at QF.

Further, any plans to restart sports will need a comprehensive assessment from the HSSE Department at QF, as well as approval from MOPH, he added.

Meanwhile, Rosca noted that QF is working to support student athletes by allowing them to organize their own games. “Multaqa, Recreation Center, Awsaj, all the facilities are open [for this purpose],” he said.

However, an EC-wide event such as the football league is not feasible due to the universities’ COVID regulations and the MOPH guidelines, he noted.

For Chadi Lasri, a communication sophomore at Northwestern University in Qatar, the cancelation of sports took away from his first-year experience. Prior to starting university, he was excited about playing college sports. During his time as a member of the NU-Q men’s football team, “I met people I didn’t know before,” he said.

However, as COVID-19 halted sports last year, “we only played for a semester,” he added.

In March, Lasri, who is Moroccan, traveled back home, and soon after a three-month lockdown was imposed in the country. “Being home, not moving much, makes a person sad,” he said.

Since the lifting of the lockdown and in the absence of university sports, Lasri said he plays football once a week with friends. “I feel pretty happy to play again, to be able to touch the ball,” he said.

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