The Aspetar Clinical Guidelines and Pathway Committee (ACGPC), chaired by Dr. Paul Dijkstra, established a Guideline Development Group (GDG) to produce updated guidelines and pathways for the safe return to sports training and competition during COVID-19.
"These guidelines will be available soon and will assist clubs and federations to plan for a safe return to sports training and competition when the current COVID-19 measures allow it. The GDG will regularly update the document as new evidence emerges" said Dr. Emin Ergen, who is leading the GDG.
But is it the right to return to sports training and competition? Members of the Aspetar COVID-19 return to sports GDG say that it depends on many factors that differ from one country and region to another, such as the prevalence of COVID-19 in a country/ region, the capacity of the health system, the individual risk profiles of the athletes and the pressure to resume play.
"Until there is an effective treatment or a vaccine, resuming training or competition will always bear a risk. This risk can, of course, be mitigated by the usual infection control measures, but at the end, it all comes down to how much risk a country or an organization is willing to take," Dr.Olaf Schumacher from Aspetar said.
Some football clubs in Qatar resumed some form of training while complying with the Government's current COVID-19 measures. While the Qatar Stars League has not yet made a formal decision in this regard, Aspetar through its National Sports Medicine Programme (NSMP) conducted several club doctors' meetings providing recommendations on how to follow the Ministry of Public Health's current recommendations to protect the health of the players, and medical and technical staff as much as possible. Aspetar recommendation will provide the best evidence-based clinical guidelines and will be shared with the relevant stakeholders.
Manchester City star Sergio Aguero believes most players are "scared" to return to action in the Premier League amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A day earlier, Manchester City star Raheem Sterling and Newcastle player Dany Rose raised their concerns on social media channels, adding that family members had died after contracting COVID-19.
Aspetar psychologist Sofiane Souissi stressed that suspending seasons and canceling competitions could cause significant grief, stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness for an athlete. It is completely normal that 'Return To Play' under the current circumstances might generate significant fear and worry about falling ill.
'The good news is that most athletes will be able to handle the stress and anxiety and build on existing coping resources. However, we can expect that some will struggle and might need further support.
One of Aspetar's recommendations to be published will stipulate additional mental health support measures for athletes by sports medicine providers. These measures might include regular check-ins with athletes, facilitating consultation with a psychologist, and encouraging maintenance of social support and interactions with family, friends, and teammates.
The Aspetar team explained that athletes and coaching staff will need to plan a progressive return to training and competition very similar to pre-season training or return to training after an injury. It is likely that technical and tactical skills, as well as the ability to control contrasts and one to one situations, will be reduced and therefore a cautious, progressive approach to return to training and competition is needed. This requires a detailed, individualized approach and an assessment of each athlete's status when training resumes. These measures will all contribute to reducing the risk of injury.
The return to training and competition will be exciting and pressure to speed up the return to competition fitness will be high. Athletes and coaches need to be mindful of the risk of training overload and over-exposure to certain high-speed technical movements.
The Aspetar Clinical Guidelines will be published in June, with many specific recommendations related to return to training, including general considerations related to indoor training where physical distancing is even more important, and guidelines on how to reduce the risk of infection, including the proper cleaning of the gym- and other equipment.
The approach to training should focus on 'get in, train, get out', keeping in mind physical distancing, and minimizing unnecessary contact in changing rooms, bathrooms, and shared areas. The training content and activity depend on the phase: individual training with 1-2 players, group training with less than eight players, or full team training phase (11v11 players). Clubs and individuals should apply a graded return to football to mitigate injury risk and understanding that a sudden increase in training load will predispose to injury.
Appropriate hydration during and after training is important drink bottles must be available, but with physical distancing in mind. Each bottle should be clearly labeled to avoid confusion.
Players should comply with the current Government regulations on masks. It is now compulsory to ALWAYS wear a mask when leaving the house in Qatar also during sports training. Players should leave the hotel wearing their training kit, and there should be a clean kit laid out for them to travel back and to the hotel after their session if necessary.
Several individuals from different Aspetar and Aspire departments representing different specialties are formulating the COVID-19 return to sport guidelines as a reference for the sports healthcare practitioners and different sports clubs in Qatar.
Aspetar launched its COVID-19 Evidence for Athletes Service in early April. This unique platform provides athletes and those involved in athlete health care with evidence-based information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cover image credit: Aspetar
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