With the resumption of competitive football around the globe there has been much discussion and debate about the risks associated with this. While it is yet to be formally peer reviewed, the article highlighted in this week’s FastFact is very topical and forms a good basis to consider some of the risks of resuming football1.
In this paper, researchers tracked players’ movements in fourteen Danish Super League matches to measure how often they would come within 1.5m of a hypothetical ‘infected player’. GPS data was retrieved from one random match played at each stadium in the league during the 2018/2019-season. Each match was analysed as though a single player was infected with each game then simulated again and again until everyone on the field had been the one to carry the virus. They found, across the 15,750 individual results, that players would spend an average of 87.8 seconds in close proximity to the infected player.
While the average time was quite low, there were big differences both between player positions and between individual players. In some matches there were players that have zero seconds of exposure while one player spent almost 11 minutes within 1.5 meters of the ‘index’ player. The highest recorded score was a striker, but on average players in this position were exposed for around two minutes. In general terms strikers, centre-backs and central midfielders were the most exposed with goalkeepers the least at risk.
It is important to highlight that this study simply defined the amount of time that players are in close proximity to each other. It does not quantify the risk of disease transmission and does not consider other potential methods of transmission including physical contact, either with each other or from touching the ball. Clearly too if more than one player had the virus the average exposed time, and likely the risk of illness, would also increase.
1. Knudsen NS, Thomasen MMD, Andersen TB. Spread of virus during soccer matches. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.26.20080614