As vaccination campaigns across the world continue, sports fans around the globe have been pondering the same question: Is it safe to attend sporting events such as basketball and football matches? The answer is a complex and unclear one as research continues, for now: Maybe not, but there are ways to make it safer if you go.
“Yelling, chanting, hugging and generally pouring out our sports enthusiasm is still not the safest activity,” noted Jennifer Dowd, associate professor of population health at the University of Oxford and chief scientific officer of Dear Pandemic, a website that offers expert opinions.
If you do decide to go to a game, outdoor stadiums are safer than indoor arenas, which won’t be as well ventilated. Venues that limit attendance and require masks are safer as well. Some teams are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for the coronavirus.
Once at the stadium, avoid indoor bars, restaurants and box seating, Dowd said. “Spaces that are indoors with lots of people eating and drinking without masks are still among the riskiest,” she said.
Going to a game is much safer if you’re fully vaccinated, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the agency advises wearing masks at crowded sports events regardless of whether you’ve had your shots.
Evidence on the safety of big games is mixed. United States' National Football League (NFL) says it safely hosted 1.2 million fans at 119 games during the 2020 season.
Some studies that haven’t yet been vetted by outside experts have reached differing conclusions about whether the football season led to more infections. The study findings can’t be certain, since they were based on disease rates in counties, not on contact tracing investigations.
Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said enough Americans will likely be fully vaccinated by June or July to see significant declines in the transmission of the virus.
“The risk won’t go to zero,” Hotez said, but it will drop enough that sporting events, restaurants and larger gatherings may be much safer.
The CDC offers additional guidance to help sports fans make decisions as the pandemic continues, such as checking with event organizers about what safety measures are being taken. An important reminder: If you have symptoms, are waiting for a virus test result or have been exposed to someone who’s infected, you should stay home, the CDC says.