It goes without saying COVID19 has affected every part of our lives, including the beloved sport of soccer. For many around the world, soccer is the national pastime of their country, almost on par with the dedication and connection to a religion for some. All countries around the world without exception have suspended their country’s professional league, collegiate and high school school seasons until further notice. One exception made the international newswires, the Belarus’ soccer league decided to go against the WHO’s prohibition of large gatherings and continue to host its league, a decision that has resulted in worldwide condemnation. Major soccer leagues and clubs in countries around the world are in financial turmoil, high-paid players are under pressure to accept smaller salaries to contribute to the survival of what just month’s ago was a vibrant and financially healthy sport. Soccer much like every Sport league will be challenged to develop the post virus future. Clearly, the world of soccer will face tough times for awhile, but the sport has deep roots, an extraordinary connection to fans and most importantly, brings passion and joy to those who seek out the game of soccer!
Here’s how COVID19 has affected soccer and soccer players.
The Risk of Financial Apocalypse:
No club is immune to the lack of ticket sales leading to a sharp decline in revenue. No revenue means many clubs have had to borrow money from lenders or face outside administration. Clubs have other means of diversifying their income, but with advertising scaled back, television revenue on hold and other means of income like merchandising and concessions diminished, particularly smaller clubs in both larger and smaller leagues will have no choice but to be relegated and potentially be forced to at least temporarily cease operations or fold. Even during times of crisis, clubs are obligated to pay their players, staff, managers, and executives as per their contracts. Nevertheless, these difficult times may require all involved to contribute to the way forward and the greater good of the team, the league and ultimately, the beautiful game of soccer!
Player’s overall health:
Staying in isolation and training at home is the norm for soccer players today. Some are trying to replicate the on-field experience and training as much as possible to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst this pandemic. However, one less talked about aspect is a players’ mental health. With clubs forced to resort to non-traditional options to keep themselves afloat, most players are anxious and uncertain about the future. In addition, as with any sport, athletes are in constant social interactions with other athletes which may promote both a positive shared crisis mentality but may also result in reinforcing negative views of the future. The lack of physical social interaction has caused a spike in depression and anxiety among soccer players, according to a survey by FIFPRO. Professional league players are able to train at home, but they don’t have the equipment or staff to strengthen and maintain their form, nor most importantly, the engagement with other players prerequisite to developing chemistry and mental engagement that comes from multi-player drills and scrimmage competition. It will take many weeks for a player to regain full fitness and mental sharpness when play resumes as anticipated in the fall.
Clubs are adjusting to ensure their clubs and players experience a better transition back to training and league play. Medical staff are now working remotely to support players in maintaining both physical and mental health. Clubs are seeking government help to fund their debts and are receiving assistance. Fans continue to show their support remotely. The opportunity to further fan support and organizational unity is at hand. What each league, club and players contributes will make the difference in returning the sport to glory days!