Guest Column

Get Fans Back At Kalinga Stadium Cautiously, With An Eye On 2023 World Cup Hockey

Spectators are being allowed almost to full capacity at the India versus New Zealand cricket matches being held at different centres. But the Kalinga Stadium hockey ground, which is hosting the FIH Men’s Junior Hockey World Cup, is a no-entry zone for fans.

Why are different rules being applied for cricket and hockey?

Rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ solution, a scientific approach towards outdoor activities – taking into account appropriate COVID-19 behaviour — will provide a more practical response.

The Tokyo Olympics in July-August this year took place sans spectators at all venues. London’s Wembley Stadium, on the other hand, allowed 60,000 people – almost 75% of its capacity – to watch the Euro football championship final on July 11. It was the largest crowd assembled for a sporting event in the UK in more than 15 months.

Even though the UK government’s COVID restrictions were in place till July 19, the semifinals and final at Wembley were allowed to bring in larger crowds under its Events Research Programme.

At the Wimbledon tennis championships, the men’s and women’s finals were played in front of capacity crowds on July 10 and 11.

This despite the fact that COVID-19 infections were on the rise at that time with an average of over 23,000 new cases reported daily. That’s 38% of the peak number for the highest daily cases reported on January 5.

As for vaccination against COVID-19, about 58.8% of UK’s population was fully inoculated.

Spectators were allowed entry to sporting venues provided they had proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test report.

These tournaments served as a beacon of hope to reassure people that the UK was returning to normal life with the Events Research Programme being a step in that direction.

Taking a cue from Euro, Wimbledon, the British Open golf meet and Tour de France, the administration in Odisha needs to explore the possibility of allowing selected spectators from the knockout/playoff stages of the ongoing Junior World Cup at Kalinga Stadium. This because Odisha government claims it has administered over 10 million doses of COVID vaccines, including 100% in Bhubaneswar, and test positivity rate (TPR) in the state is minimal.

Statistically, Odisha has an opportunity to take a call on shaping a path to end the pandemic and signal return to normal life. The concept of bio-bubble being applied in hosting the tournament could be tried in spectator management.

A bio-bubble is an invisible shield that is used to host events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bio-bubbles were introduced once sporting activities resumed last year after months of lull caused by the pandemic.

So Instead of imposing restrictions, Odisha could use the opportunity to open the welcome door to spectators – those who are vaccinated, have tested negative, without any COVID-19 symptom, wear mask, maintain social distancing by keeping an empty chair between two persons, regular hand hygiene. Database of every spectator should also be maintained for a fortnight to check whether anyone contracts the virus.

Odisha is a pioneer in disaster management, so the state must take advantage of the ongoing hockey tournament to show its strength. With better scientific evidence, life can move on with little or zero casualty.

It could also provide a roadmap and preparedness for upcoming major sporting events in Odisha like the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023.

Piyush Rout

Urban Planner

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