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The impact of COVID-19 on sport, physical activity and well-being and its effects on social development

With the spread of COVID-19 in the year 2020 across all corners of the world, virtually all aspects of life were disrupted.  The sports industry was not spared either.

Sporting events were either been cancelled or postponed so as to protect the health of athletes, spectators and all others involved. Most notably was the postponement of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, barely 122 days to the grand opening. Likewise, the UEFA EURO Championship was also postponed.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta suspended all sporting activities in March 2020 as part of efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. This action disrupted so many sporting activities which included the Kenya football premier league matches and the Kenya athletics calendar.

This saw so many athletes and sports men and women lose their only source of income. This disruption not only affected the sporting fraternity, it also interfered with other sectors in related retail and sporting services, transportation, catering, media broadcasting among others. Many millions of jobs were hence put at risk, not just for sports professionals.

Cancellation of sporting activities also affected the social and emotional excitement of fans too.

The partial reopening of sporting activities earlier this year did not help much to salvage the situation. Sports played without spectators missed out on the necessary ‘feel good’ factor associated with watching and following sporting activities. Playing in an empty stadium lacked that sort of electricity generated from the players’ closeness with fans which launches them to an extraordinary height of exaltation.

Physical well-being

Sports provide a combined economic, health and social impacts to the society. Sustained involvement in sports has been positively associated with improved wellbeing, confidence, self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms among individual participants. Additionally, community sport settings are gaining momentum as an efficacious site for the delivery of mental health and wellbeing interventions. The COVID-19 pandemic thus dealt a major the general health issue, affecting the people and athletes’ performance.

Less physical activities led to behavioural and social tendencies especially when people were confined to their homes. Majority of the time was spent idling around the house, watching television, sleeping and eating unnecessarily thus resulting into weight gains and loss of physical fitness.

Some of those who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions could not feed well and in some cases, this led to malnutrition and cases of mental health issues due to stress and anxiety as a result of isolation from the normal social life.

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has accelerated the application of technology in sports. Substantial usage of augmented or virtual reality, mobile ticketing, cashless payments, touchless entries, online food and beverage concessions, stand to form the new norm. With the pandemic looking likely to be with us for some time, the entire sports ecosystem will need new ways to deal with threats to financial and business continuity arising from disrupted cash flows, legal and insurance challenges, and possible impacts on longer-term attendances and engagement. 

However, all is not lost. Sports men and women should adapt to the current situation as the resume full-time sporting activities. The government too should look for ways to revive the sector through short, medium and long-term strategies.

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