Sports venues world over pitch in to combat coronavirus
The dreaded novel coronavirus is tightening its noose leaving 9, 81,258 people infected across the world and over 50,253 people have lost their lives so far globally.
This is the second part of the series – ‘Stadium turning into hospitals to tackle COVID-19’. ‘The Coliseum’ carried out the first part on March 25, 2020.
At such a critical time, the sports and venue sector has stepped up its act of kindness. Sports stadiums across the world are being converted into hospitals to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Football world gesture
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
- Cases in Spain stood at 1, 10,238 on Thursday, and two planes with protective equipment arrived to restock an overloaded public health system.
Against such a backdrop, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the home facility of Spanish LaLiga football club Real Madrid, will be utilised as a hub for the supply and distribution of strategic medical supplies as part of the effort to combat COVID-19 in the capital.
Till date, Spain has recorded 104,118 coronavirus cases and its death toll passed 10,000 on Thursday.
Few days back, the leader of Madrid’s regional Government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, publicly expressed his gratitude to Real Madrid for a “big donation in health materials” after talks with the club’s President, Florentino Pérez. City rival Atlético de Madrid – which also plays in La Liga – has also donated for the cause, but now Real Madrid has gone one step further by teaming up with Spain’s High Council for Sport (CSD) in the Bernabéu venture.
The Bernabéu, which is in the midst of a major revamp work, will offer a space that is equipped to store the donations of medical supplies required in the fight against the pandemic. All of the stored supplies will be passed on to the Spanish health authorities, under the supervision of the Spanish Government, so that the resources are employed in a well-organized and competent manner.
Apart from this, Real Madrid will provide a facility for organizations and businesses, particularly those belonging to the sports sector, to leave money or material donations that they wish to make to the Ministry of Health. This initiative is in addition to those which, pursuing similar outreach aims, may be established by the Government.
The Ministry of Health will be at the helm and will be accountable for allotting the donations to the centers and organizations that are in dire need. This entire donation exercise will be done through the mechanisms already in place and under the watchful eye of the lead medical supplies center in the Madrid town of Valdemoro.
The Bernabéu joins other venues in Madrid that have been acclimatized in the war against COVID-19. A 5,000-bed field hospital has been developed in the IFEMA conference center (a hyperconnected fair organization), while the Palacio de Hielo (an entertainment complex known as the Ice Palace) has been converted into a morgue.
- The much famed Estadio Centenario (a stadium used mostly for football) in the South American country Uruguay has been offered as a home for shelterless people deemed to be most at risk from COVID-19. The facility in Montevideo (Uruguay) which can accommodate 60,000 spectators will lodge 28 men who suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, HIV and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Media reports quoted the Ministry of Social Development as saying that the men will stay at the stadium for the duration of the health emergency.
Uruguay has reported 350 coronavirus cases and two deaths so far.
The UK is also waging a war against COVID-19 with 29,474 cases and 2,921 deaths reported till date. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has placed UK on a police-enforced lockdown with drastic new measures in fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
- Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur – the English professional football club in Tottenham, London – has allowed their home ground, the 62,303-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, to be used to support vulnerable individuals across the communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spurs, whose venue is widely considered as the best in the world, have held talks with Haringey Council, the Greater London Authority and the NHS about making use of their arena.
Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur Daniel Levy stated, “As a club, we have always been clear about our commitment to the wider community – never has this been more important than it is now. We are immensely proud of the efforts of everybody involved in the fight against COVID-19 and see today as just the start of what we can do as a club to assist.”
To begin with, the stadium’s basement car park is being used as a storage base by the London Food Alliance – a new scheme set up to ensure food supplies for the most vulnerable people within the capital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been set up by the capital’s three largest food surplus distributors — The Felix Project, FareShare and City Harvest — to pick up nutritious surplus food from suppliers and deliver it in bulk to community hubs in each London borough.
Each Borough Council is creating hubs to receive the surplus food, divide it into food parcels and deliver them to the doorsteps of vulnerable Londoners – the stadium will be one of the two hubs used by Haringey, alongside Alexandra Palace.
- The English League Two football club Plymouth Argyle in the city of Plymouth in England has teamed up with the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust to make their residence – Home Park Stadium – available for routine National Health Services (NHS) during the COVID-19 response period.
With football suspended until April 30 at the earliest, and staff working from home, the club has made its Mayflower Grandstand available for the NHS to use for their community antenatal and phlebotomy (over 16) services. The NHS has moved equipment into the ground and will begin patient consultations soon.
The local General Practitioner (GP) and Associate Medical Director for primary care at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Dr Jonathan Cope, informed, “The move to temporarily relocate lower risk, mobile services away from Derriford Hospital and GP practices is intended to allow for the continuation of important clinical interactions, without creating additional footfall to the traditional sites.”
“The task of converting the Grandstand into a temporary clinic has been a team effort. Planning and delivering this in little over a week is a breathtaking achievement and testament to the strong partnership working between the club and the local NHS,” Dr Cope stated.
- The English professional Premier League football club Watford in Watford, UK, has offered the use of its home ground Vicarage Road Stadium to help the NHS overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
The ground adjoins the Watford General Hospital and Chairman of Watford Football Club Scott Duxbury said the club would do “whatever it takes” to support the health service.
Watford said it is preparing to host NHS staff induction courses, urgent meeting spaces, warehousing needs, childcare facilities and more.
Duxbury added, “We need to forget football right now and concentrate on doing all we can to support the NHS and, in particular, Watford General Hospital. Our proximity as a football club next door to a hospital puts us in a great position to offer help and we’re keen to do whatever we possibly can to support NHS staff and their families.”
“The UK Government’s message has been about doing ‘whatever it takes’. Likewise, we’ll do ‘whatever it takes’ here at Vicarage Road to offer our fullest support to the NHS and its people at a time when it’s clearly needed most,” he asserted.
With easy access straight into the hospital site from Vicarage Road Stadium’s Graham Taylor Stand, Watford said senior NHS staff is currently coordinating their exact requirements with the club ready to act accordingly.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) Chief Executive, Christine Allen, said the trust had found itself “needing extra space very quickly” for things like running refresher training for clinical staff so they could care for patients with breathing difficulties.
She added, “The club’s support is helping us to run our organization safely and we are very grateful for their support at this challenging time.”
- Bosses of the professional association League One football club in the town of Burton upon Trent in Stratfordshire, England, Burton Albion, has offered the facilities at its home ground Pirelli Stadium for use by the NHS and the emergency services and has donated food that would have been used for matchday hospitality for distribution to those in need. The club has vowed to help the community as the coronavirus continues to spread across UK – and have offered their stadium as hospital “overflow”.
No fixtures have been played by the football club since March 10 as the season has been put on hold. The vast majority of programs from Burton Albion Community Trust, the club’s charity arm, have also been suspended. The club’s facilities and staff are now being offered to support the NHS and emergency services, while also lending a hand to the vulnerable in the Burton community.
Boxes at the club’s Pirelli Stadium, in Princess Way, have been offered to Queen’s Hospital for use as “overflow” for medical appointments and checks, if needed. Burton Albion workers are delivering packages to those most in need in the community.
Burton Albion Commercial Director Fleur Robinson stated, “We thought the stadium and the boxes and suites could be useful if hospitals needed overflow space for less urgent checks and appointments or it could be a base for delivering food supplies if the movement of people becomes even more restricted. We have contacted the NHS, police and the council and have said that the stadium is available, and we hope we can help.”
In these times of coronavirus crisis, Burton Albion FC are making one of the suites at the Pirelli Stadium available for midwives at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB) to offer expectant and new mums care closer to their homes. The facility will allow community midwives to offer patients antenatal and post-natal care from Monday to Friday at the ground.
Professional football in England has been further postponed until at least April 30 due to the coronavirus scourge.
- The Cardiff Stadium in Wales, UK, which is famous for its retractable roof, has on earlier occasions been used as a temporary hospital by St John Wales during New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Welsh capital Cardiff. The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU’s) announcement comes close on the heels of Welsh Pro14 rugby union team Scarlets declaring it will be able to provide extra beds during the pandemic if needed following discussions with the Carmarthenshire County Council – the local council for the county of Carmarthenshire, Wales.
“We have approached the authorities and they’re aware that our facilities will be made available if and when required,” a WRU spokesperson told mediapersons.
“We’ve worked alongside the authorities over many years at our events and they’re familiar with the stadium. This is an incredibly fast moving and challenging time. The authorities were grateful for us getting in touch and we continue working together to monitor the situation,” the spokesperson added.
Venues holding different events
- Work is on in war footing with military personnel pitching in to convert London’s Excel Centre into a temporary coronavirus hospital. Work has started in turning the 70,000 visitor capacity convention center into a 4,000-bed field hospital with two wards.
The NHS is under extreme pressure due to surge in coronavirus cases in the English capital. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, while confirming the move said the temporary hospital will be known as the NHS Nightingale Hospital – “The NHS Nightingale Hospital will comprise two wards, each of 2,000 people. With the help of the military and with NHS clinicians we will make sure that we have the capacity that we need so that everyone can get the support that they need.”
The Excel Centre opened in London’s Docklands in the year 2000 and is used to host conferences, trade fairs and sporting events. The facility’s event halls offer more than 87,000 square meters of space, while there are several smaller areas within the venue.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman informed, “To assist NHS England to prepare for a number of scenarios as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, a team of military planners visited the Excel Centre in London to determine how the center might benefit the NHS response to the outbreak.”
The field hospital is expected to be used to handle the expected surge in COVID-19 patients with severe breathing difficulties for whom beds are unlikely be available in London’s busy intensive care units.
NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said erecting new hospitals in “very short order” was an “extraordinary action” part of the UK’s “unprecedented response” to coronavirus.
Resorts World Arena
- Birmingham’s NEC Group, which operates the West Midlands city’s NEC exhibition centre and Resorts World Arena and Arena Birmingham, said it “stands ready” and is “well-equipped” should it be considered a suitable location for a temporary hospital.
In a statement, a spokeswoman said, “We are and have been in constant communication with the local NHS trust, police and fire service, and the services are fully aware of the capabilities of the venue. We will do our utmost to support the effort in combating the virus.”
The Resorts World Arena is a multipurpose indoor arena located at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Solihull, England. It enjoys a capacity of 15,685 seats. The venue was built as the seventh hall of the NEC complex.
Chicago United Center
Coronavirus continues to hit the US hard with death toll soaring. Till date, 2, 26,978 cases have surfaced with 5,343 people losing their lives.
Sports venues across US have been pivoting their operations in an effort to help local services fight COVID-19.
Basketball and hockey
- Chicago’s United Center – an indoor arena on the Near West Side of Chicago at Illinois in US – has informed that it will modify into a logistics hub to aid in frontline food distribution, first responder staging and the collection of critically needed medical supplies.
Chicago’s United Center serves as home to the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League (NHL). It is believed to be the first such move by NBA basketball and NHL ice hockey arenas.
A statement read: “As Illinois goes through this together, the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, is proud to be playing a critical role with our city, State and federal response to the pandemic. On behalf of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, our athletes, our front offices and our dedicated United Center personnel, our thoughts and support are with the people of this great city and State. Together, we will get through this.”
A spokesman told mediapersons that the transition will happen soon. The arena is not in use since the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2 on March 11. Hawks and Bulls Chairmen Rocky Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf, respectively, have promised to pay day-of-game arena employees through the remainder of the initially scheduled season.
Cricket world bat for coronavirus cause
India is also grappling with the fatal COVID-19 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi implementing a 21-day nationwide lockdown from March 25 to April 14. Till date, the coronavirus figures in India stand at 2,069 and 53 deaths.
In India, the cricket establishment is ready to bat for the coronavirus cause. The cricket establishment of the country is ready to follow the footsteps of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which has decided to allow its facilities across the nation to be converted into temporary centers to fight the coronavirus scourge.
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
- The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the national capital of India, New Delhi, has been handed over to the Delhi Government to be used as a quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients. The administration’s move to take over the stadium came amid a large number of people who were staying in a mosque complex in Nizamuddin showed symptoms of COVID-19. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), which manages the stadium which can sit 60,000 spectators, was asked by the Delhi administration to hand it over citing the need for the facility for using it for the purpose of quarantine.
- The Assam Cricket Association (ACA) (Assam is a State in India) has said it is willing to convert its 40,000-capacity Barsapara Stadium in Guwahati into quarantine centers.
- The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President, Sourav Ganguly, has offered Eden Gardens’ (a cricket ground in Kolkata) indoor facility and the players’ dormitory to the West Bengal Government (a State in India) to create a temporary medical facility. The iconic 66,000-capacity stadium is operated by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). Former Indian team captain Ganguly told mediapersons, “If the Government asks us, we will certainly hand over the facility. Anything that is need of the hour, we will do it. There is absolutely no problem.”
Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium
- John Manoj, Secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (Hyderabad is a State in India), said they have rooms at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal which the Government can use in its battle against COVID-19 – “It’s the Hyderabad Cricket Association’s apex council which has to take the call. But if the Government wants, we will, in all likelihood, offer what we can. There are corporate cabins at the stadium which can be used. It’s up to the authorities to decide if and how they want to use the space.”
The BCCI doesn’t own any of these stadiums, as they are under the respective State associations. But, the apex cricket body in India is willing to cooperate if the Central or respective State Governments consider them to be useful. “If the Government wants to use these stadiums to set up temporary quarantine centers or testing centers, the BCCI will ask the State associations to do what they can. In this time of crisis, we will be happy to play our part in countering the situation. Logistically, I can’t say for sure how exactly this can be done. But, we are ready, if we are needed,” BCCI Treasurer Arun Dhumal told mediapersons.
UK cricket world (pitch) ing in
Elsewhere, with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) having agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least May 28, county clubs are offering their facilities to be used to tackle the fatal virus cases.
Durham County Cricket Club
- Durham Cricket has offered the use of its home facility Emirates Riverside to the local council and NHS, as well as the support of their staff. The venue is now closed to the general public.
The county has also offered the premises to the local council, as well as the support of staff that may be of assistance. Stated Durham Chief Executive Tim Bostock, “Throughout this ongoing situation the senior leadership team at the club have been meeting on a daily basis and reviewing our operational practices in line with Government advice.”
Kent County Cricket Club
- Kent Cricket Club in Canterbury, UK, has unveiled the steps they are taking to help people steer through the coronavirus crisis. While the club’s day to day activities have been suspended and their offices remain closed to the public, the county say they are keen to identify areas where their staff, facilities and resources can make a difference to the wider community.
Kent Cricket is offering its home – The Spitfire Ground at St Lawrence in Canterbury, and The County Ground, Beckenham, for civic contingency planning.
Remarked Kent Cricket CEO, Simon Storey, “We are uniquely placed to take a leading role in ensuring that communities across Kent are ready to face the challenges ahead.
With two well-equipped venues in Canterbury and Beckenham and with our network of 300 clubs across both the county and metropolitan Kent, we have a responsibility to serve our communities beyond the boundary.”
The head honcho further noted, “The Covid-19 virus throws up new challenges for both the club and our county. Our commitment is that we will work tirelessly to ensure that Kent Cricket continues to inspire, engage and use the power of cricket to give communities across Kent a reason to smile, at a time when they need it more than ever.”
This offer has been made to the NHS, Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council and London Borough of Bromley. Everything will take place with the nod of NHS officials and with rigorous hygiene measures in place.
Closed door cricket
The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has said COVID-19 testing checkpoints and isolation units could be deployed at grounds under a behind closed doors event model, adding that the “national mood” would also be required to be gauged before the domestic season could begin play.
As mentioned above, the ECB recently agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least May 28, wiping out the first seven rounds of the County Championship and questioning the status of this year’s 50-over Royal London Cup.
The Royal London One-Day Cup is a 50-over limited overs cricket competition for the England and Wales first-class counties.
The ECB, which is due to launch its new franchise-based competition, The Hundred, this summer, is presently working on a range of options to start the season in June, July or August – with an immediate focus on options for cricket in June, including England’s three-Test series against West Indies, and the domestic T20 Blast tournament.
The Hundred is the title of a professional franchise 100-ball cricket tournament in England and Wales run by the ECB, which is supposed to commence in July 2020.
The Twenty20 Cup, known since 2014 as the T20 Blast, is a professional Twenty20 cricket competition for English and Welsh first-class counties. The competition was established by the ECB in 2003 as the first professional Twenty20 league in the world.
The governing body said its close touch with the Government would continue, with discussions centering on the likelihood of starting the season behind closed doors and giving fans the opportunity to watch live broadcast action. Speaking to mediapersons, the ECB’s Director of Events, Steve Elworthy, stated that the governing body faces an uphill task as regards returning to action.
Stated Elworthy, “We’re mapping out what international matches would look like behind closed doors. The advice around mass gatherings (before the current period of lockdown) was 500 people or fewer. That was guided by the potential impact on critical services like paramedics and doctors.”
He added, “You would likely have to work within that number, which includes teams, match officials, support staff, broadcasters and media, commercial partners, safety and security teams, third-party suppliers, replay screen operators, (the teams that control) the LED boards, ground staff, catering and more.”
The top sports official further observed, “Then you have to think about medical provisions, creating a safe and sterile environment around that venue, so that everyone who comes in is clear. So it’s how you test them at the gate, the isolation units that you have to put in. These are all the considerations we are thinking about.”
The ECB’s medical team is said to be working on a protocol for how testing would work, along with temporary isolation booths to be employed if anyone tests positive for COVID-19. Media reports stated that there can be around 1,500 people working on a normal major matchday, but it is believed this can be cut down to around 350 with no spectators at grounds.
Elworthy made it clear that the zeal to return to action will not be driven by pure economic interest – “One thing you have to consider is the national mood. You might be able to deliver a match but would it be the right thing? Operationally, we believe we can deliver anything but we have to have an eye on that. You don’t just operate in a bubble, you need peripheral vision.”
“(And) making sure everyone is in a safe environment is front and center of the discussions. We have had good conversations with the new Chief Executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Tony Irish, as well as County Directors of cricket. Player and official safety and comfort are paramount,” he asserted.
In his role at the ECB, Elworthy is also responsible for the delivery of The Hundred. The successful launch of the ambitious new competition is crucial for the ECB, leading some to conjecture whether deferring it to 2021 may be the better option, once the global situation concerning COVID-19 settles down.
Elworthy pointed out, “No one has a crystal ball. We know what The Hundred is intended for and the power of what it can deliver. There will be considerations for all competitions and a process to go through but I would be hesitant to write off anything at this stage. We don’t know when we’ll get the green light to get back on and playing. You must make sure you have done all your critical thinking and planning so when you reach that point and know how much season is left, you deliver as much cricket as possible and as coherently as possible.”
He summed up, “One thing you can guarantee is that sport is one of the greatest unifiers. We will come out of this and it will be front and center of pulling the country together. That’s the power of sport and cricket has a huge role to play in that.”
The novel coronavirus outbreak, however, is not a disaster confined to only one particular country. All over the globe, officials are being forced to hunt for extra spaces to ease the strain on the existing hospital systems which is groaning under COVID-19 crisis. At such a juncture, sports facilities have opened their doors to patients like never before and sports authorities the world over are ready to play the role of Johnny-on-the-spot.
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