Compliance Challenges for Sports in the Coronavirus Era

No country in the world has the array of sports available to the public as does the United States. Whether one is an actual participant or just an avid enthusiast, there is much to choose from in this country. Sports in the United States are further characterized by a variety of local, national, educational, professional and other governing bodies.

Consider all the professional sports leagues where tens of thousands of players and team and league personnel make livings and where virtually every sports fan follows a favorite team and/or individual: major and minor league baseball, N.B.A. basketball, N.F.L. football, N.H.L. hockey, the professional golf tours, M.L.S. soccer, professional tennis and many others. Consider also the United States Olympic and Paralympic committee with its own national governing bodies for the following sports: archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, biathlon, bobsled and skeleton, boxing, canoe, climbing, curling, cycling, diving, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, figure skating, golf, gymnastics, hockey, judo, karate, luge, pentathlon, rowing, rugby, sailing, shooting, skateboarding, ski and snowboard, soccer, softball, speed-skating, surfing, swimming, synchro, table tennis, taekwondo, team handball, tennis, track & field, triathlon, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling.

Not to be overlooked, there are national governing bodies for less prominent sports such as bowling, racquetball, roller sports, squash and water ski. Other recognized sport organizations include those for: football, dance, ultimate (flying disc), orienteering, polo, and underwater (synchronized) swimming.

One also cannot forget the numerous education-based multi-sport organizations, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Junior College Athletic Association. Moreover, each of the United States Armed Forces including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy have their own sports organizations. One could go on and on and on listing all the different organizations responsible for governing all the levels of organized sports activity in this country.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, virtually all of the above sports organizations have one thing in common – they have suspended operations until further notice. Significant challenges which lie ahead for each of them include: 1) developing a realistic plan for resuming competition; 2) developing and implementing standards and guidelines to ensure the safety and health of participants and their fans which are consistent with each organization’s standards and those guidelines and regulations promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) where applicable; and 3) designing an auditing and evaluation system to ensure compliance with applicable standards, guidelines and regulations.

Only then will sports organizations in the United States be able to responsibly resume operations in the coronavirus era. Each resumption of play will need to be closely monitored by the sport’s governing authority to ensure that athletes and members of the public are protected from the deadly virus. In terms of compliance, this is the most important focus in the months and years ahead.

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