A study by the Portugal Football School of the Portuguese Football Federation in which the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP) participated, suggests that football is not a sport with a high risk of respiratory exposure for the transmission of COVID-19. This result is in line with the classification of “medium risk”, attributed by the Portuguese Directorate-General for Health to the modality, in August.
The research, published in the journal “Sensors”, monitored the dynamics of an international football game, using tracking, which allowed for the assessment of the interpersonal contact between individuals on the field.
“The positions and movements of the players and referees were analyzed during a football game that ended in a draw with three goals, using a system with super-HD cameras and patented image processing technology. This technology is used in championships such as the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Eredivisie, Champions League as well as international UEFA and FIFA games”, explains Romeu Mendes, an ISPUP researcher involved in the study, along with Henrique Barros.
To quantify the risk of exposure to COVID-19 during the game, the researchers calculated two measures of respiratory exposure.
The first measure, calculated for each individual, was based on the time spent at a distance of less than two meters in relation to others. To calculate the second measure, the exposure time to the “cloud” of respiratory droplets formed by the movement of the other players was added to the first.
The study found that football does not seem to be a high risk activity for the respiratory transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19 disease. The maximum exposure time between two opposing players was found to be six and a half minutes, at less than two meters.
To date, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control defines as high risk of exposure interpersonal contact with one confirmed case of COVID-19, for more than 15 minutes, at a distance of at least two meters, and without a mask.
Application of the methodology to other modalities
For Romeu Mendes, the results of the study indicate that “this methodology can be used to assess respiratory exposure resulting from interpersonal contact and the consequent risk stratification of the practice and competition of different sports or physical activities, which can contribute to the planning of different activities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Henrique Barros believes that “the study provides relevant information to understand the risk of transmission from the perspective of contact situations and can be seen as a contribution to decide on the so-called non-pharmacological measures to prevent infection”. And he adds that, “of course, it also contributes to a better ‘management’ of the fear with which social contact activities may be faced”.
In the investigation called Can Tracking Data Help in Assessing Interpersonal Contact Exposure in Team Sports during the COVID-19 Pandemic? researchers from the Universidade de Évora, Instituto Universitário da Maia, Universidade da Beira Interior and Universidade Nova de Lisboa also participated.
The article is available HERE.