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COVID-19 …. International Olympic Committee joins forces with WHO and the United Nations to fight COVID-19

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 Athletes share messages to keep us #HEALTHYTogether

There has never been a greater need for global solidarity and hope during this time of unprecedented challenges and change as the whole world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the ongoing struggle for racial and social justice, and to the climate crisis. — Guterres

 International Olympic Committee and WHO together with the United Nations have launched a partnership to encourage individuals and communities around the world to be #HEALTHYTogether.  This marked one of the highlights of the OLYMPIC DAY. On the occasion, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that there has never been a greater need for global solidarity and hope during this time of unprecedented challenges and change as the whole world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the ongoing struggle for racial and social justice, and to the climate crisis.

Guterres stated this in his media statement to commemorate Olympic Day, 23 June 2020, that featured the intent of the WHO and IOC to work together for the common good. He said Olympic athletes will help deliver important public health information, to inspire people to adopt or continue behaviour that will curtail the pandemic and provide information that promotes physical and mental health. The partnership kicks off today with Olympians around the world showcasing various exercises to stay healthy during this time.

A statement from the WHO headquarters in Geneva reveals that  Olympic movement and its athletes have always brought out the best in humanity, and the United Nations is pleased to work with the International Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization in calling on people everywhere to unite and be  #HEALTHYTogetherOn  Olympic Day, 23 June 2020, the International Olympic Committee and WHO together with the United Nations launch a partnership to encourage individuals and communities around the world to be #HEALTHYTogether. The three partners and Olympic athletes will spotlight the global collaboration needed to stay healthy and reduce the spread and impact of COVID-19.

A WHO survey showed that many people who had severe COVID-19 disease were already living with or at risk for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The results emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle including being physically active, having a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.

“We are pleased to partner with the International Olympic Committee to spread important health messages that will save lives. Olympians will help us advocate for healthier populations to ensure that people are as resilient as our health systems must be to fight COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

Over the past six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every corner of the globe and every aspect of people‘s lives. The world is looking for global institutions to work together and for leaders to deliver reliable, credible information from sources they trust. Olympic athletes are symbols of strength that can act as trusted messengers for this information.

IOC President Thomas Bach said, “Sport can save lives. We have seen over the last few months just how important sport and physical activity are for health and well-being. And working together with the WHO and the United Nations we can take another step together. We will ask our Olympic athletes to help share the information and best practice that the world needs now.”

The global partnership will act locally, through the voices of Olympic athletes – voices that symbolize perseverance, dedication and endurance – qualities all individuals need during this public health challenge. WHO will work with athletes to bring tailored health messages to people who are living through various stages of the pandemic through digital platforms.

As COVID-19 forces changes to our daily routines and lives – from how we interact with others to how we move and exercise – we need to pay attention to our own mental and physical health and help others who may need extra support. By working together, the aim of the partnership on Olympic Day and every day is to stay Healthy Together.

 Sports events and COVID-19: from lockdown to a new start: On 18 June 2020, WHO’s Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN) hosted a webinar on “Sports events and COVID-19: from lockdown to a new start ”. It was attended by over 500 participants from across all six WHO Regions. Sport promotes physical activity, health and community engagement. It also plays a significant role in local and national economies and supports a range of livelihoods. Sport’s reach and appeal cannot be underestimated: for example, it is estimated that there are some four billion football fans around the world.

Sports venues serve a wider economic and social function not limited to sports events, including through hosting music concerts and other functions. However, during the COVID-2019 pandemic, many countries have implemented public health and social measures that restrict or prohibit mass gatherings, including the participation in and attendance of sports events. As these measures are relaxed in several countries, how should national governments, sports associations, teams and venues move towards a “new start”, while ensuring the health and safety of all involved?

The webinar featured speakers from WHO headquarters and regional offices; the International Olympic Committee (IOC); the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa; the Adelaide Oval sports ground in Australia; the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA); Flinders University Australia; Griffith University Australia; and World Rugby. Resuming sports events and reopening venues depends on a number of factors, ranging from the current epidemiological situation and existing public health measures recommended by authorities, to the expected size of crowds and venue capacity for individual events. Decisions on if and how events should go ahead must be based on a risk assessments including all these factors, and the decision-making process should be sufficiently flexible to account for the changing context. Although the various sports are very different in nature, the advice WHO has to offer is the same: the decision if an event can proceed or be cancelled should always rely on a risk-based approach.

This includes three pillars: risk evaluation, risk control and mitigation, and communication of risk and decisions to stakeholders. To support this process, the WHO has published a set of risk assessment tools, which several partners further adapted for specific purposes. Panelists discussed what measures can be implemented to eliminate or mitigate the risk of transmission. While some sports leagues have held matches without spectators, venues in other countries have reopened with a range of measures in place, including: restricting the number of spectators per square meter to facilitate physical distancing; installing hand-washing stations; limiting congregation in entrances and exits; and use of mobile electronic ticketing. At the Adelaide Oval, for example, the numbers of spectators are limited through an online lottery, and messages are sent three hours before each event to remind them of their responsibility to not attend if they experience any symptoms of COVID-19.

All these measures must also take into consideration how spectators travel to and from the venue. Sporting federations such as the IOC, FIFA and World Rugby have a key role to play in assessing risks and setting standards. For its part, World Rugby published its recommendations for a Safe Return to Rugby in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic on 27 April 2020. Being a contact sport, rugby carries an inherent but limited risk of COVID-19 transmission between players, and World Rugby has taken the lead in assessing these risks and developing guidelines for safe training and matches. Other federations, such as the IOC, are involved in multiple different sports each with their own considerations for risk mitigation strategies. Responses to past infectious disease outbreaks can inform approaches to confronting the risks posed by COVID-19.

The panelist from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa described the experience of South Africa ten years ago as it prepared to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which drew in around four million spectators and 350,000 foreign visitors. At the time, the H1N1 (2009) influenza virus pandemic had been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, while the country was also experiencing a measles outbreak with 17,000 cases. Risk reduction measures included a measles mass vaccination campaign which was completed in early 2010 and strengthening of the country’s national infectious diseases surveillance programme.

Measures to bring about a “new start” for sport in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic should be developed in consultation with legal, public health and occupational health experts, and with specific consideration to the epidemiological context, the type of sports events in question, and the characteristics of the venues where they will take place.