New tool to make sports events safer

Professor Wayne Derman

A sports and exercise medicine
expert from Stellenbosch
University (SU) is a member
of a high-level international Outbreak Prevention Task Force that
has developed a free online tool to
help event organisers to assess and
mitigate the Covid-19 risk during
endurance sports events. 

This online tool was developed
in record time by a group of
experts from a number of the
world’s leading sports organisations, including World Athletics,
the International Cycling Union
and the International Institute for
Race Medicine. 
The World Health
Organization (WHO) was involved
in the project in an observer capacity. 
“According to the saying, necessity is the mother of invention.
At the beginning of 2020, none
of us thought that a pandemic
would bring about an abrupt halt
to many forms of physical activity
and the sports industry,” said Professor Wayne Derman, director of
the Institute of Sport and Exercise
Medicine (ISEM) at SU’s Faculty
of Medicine and Health Sciences
“Being active keeps people
healthy and there are also many
people employed in endurance
sports – from professional athletes
to the organisations that deliver
mass gathering races.
“Therefore, for the last (few)
months, those of us with a responsibility for endurance sport have
been trying to help with the return
of sports in an environment that
will be as safe as possible,” said
Professor Derman, who is also a
representative of the International
Paralympic Committee. 
“The tool is intended to help
organisers assess the risk of staging
an event, establish the preparedness of the community and the
event organisation for the risks of
Covid-19, and clarify any necessary steps to further mitigate and
reduce the risk,” he explained
about the Infectious Diseases Outbreak Management (IDOM) tool
that was launched internationally. 
To use the tool, sports event
organisers enter details about a
planned event online, after which
a customised report is produced
that can assist organisers to make
decisions to protect the local community, the participants, the volunteers, the workforce and the staff
It does not advise on spectator management. The tool was
developed by the medical task
force and is based on WHO tools
and documents. 
“We wanted to help organisers understand the varying risks
posed by the pandemic. The tool
recognises the status of the pandemic where the event is taking
place, for example whether it is
active, receding or subject to additional waves. Until a vaccine is found, there
is never going to be zero risk.
Instead we look at mitigation strategies that can be employed to
lower that risk as much as possible,”
he said. 
The tool is applicable and free
of charge to all mass participation
endurance events, regardless of the
sport, competition level and size.
It outlines mandatory mitigation measures to be undertaken by the event organisers, based on
their particular circumstances, as
well as recommended and desired
measures, and emphasises that all
of the mandatory measures and
most of the recommended measures should be adopted if the event
is to take place. 
“It’s a pushing and prompting tool that examines things like:
Does the event include athletes
from parts of the world where the
pandemic might be more active, or
is this just a local event?
“Will spectators be present or
not? What is the plan in place in
case there is an outbreak during
the event and can people be safely
referred to the local hospital? 
“Are the feeding and watering
tables, and the people using them,
adequately protected?
“So, it’s a tool of education and
a tool of risk mitigation,” said Professor Derman. 
“Use of the tool doesn’t guarantee an event can take place,
because every meet will be subject to local conditions, laws and
approval by necessary authorities.
“Current regulations in South
Africa states that no mass endurance sport is allowed. But once
these regulations are lifted, event
organisers can use the tool to assess
the risk, and go to local authorities
to present a considered plan,” said
Professor Derman. 
The template for this online
tool can be used by other endurance sports. 
“Using the tool will not solve
the Covid-19 outbreak or other
infectious diseases, but it will guide
event organisers through a process that should become a habit
and should be followed before
every event,” said Dr Paolo Emilio
Adami, World Athletics’ medical
“There will never be zero risk
for infectious diseases, but we want
to help event organisers to reduce
the risk to an acceptable level.”
The tool is available at idom. 
* Wilma Stassen is a science
writer at the Faculty of Medicine
and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University.