Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics and the International Institute for Race Medicine (IIRM) will together set up a medical task force to provide endurance events that include mass gatherings with the necessary guidelines to prevent outbreak of infectious diseases.

The move follows the spread of COVID-19 worldwide. Major events in sport ranging from international marathons to Tour de France and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed as a result.

According to a statement dated April 17, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, the Outbreak Prevention Taskforce, led by World Athletics (Health and Science Department) and the IIRM, will include the Medical Chairs or representatives of the International Cycling Union (UCI), International Ski Federation (FIS), International Triathlon Union (ITU), International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and World Rowing (FISA), as well as Professor Brian McCloskey of the Centre on Global Health Security, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), an independent expert in outbreak prevention and member of the WHO Novel Coronavirus-19 Mass Gatherings Expert Group.

The task force will be served by an advisory group, which will include representatives of industry, private companies, sponsors, partners, and media. “ We are forming this taskforce to bring together key representatives from all parts of the endurance sports world to help find solutions and create viable and appropriate guidelines for participants of mass sports events, event staff, volunteers, and the community at large. COVID-19 has been the stimulus for the formation of this taskforce, however, many event organisers have also had to deal with Norovirus and other contagious diseases during the staging of events and this taskforce will help create guidelines to help reduce the risk of infection,” Dr Stephane Bermon, Director of the Health and Science Department at World Athletics, was quoted as saying in the statement.

The Outbreak Prevention Taskforce has the following objectives:

  • Disseminate recommendations to prevent disease outbreaks in mass gatherings.
  • Provide race organisers and sport governing bodies with guidelines, including a risk assessment tool dedicated to determining the outbreak risk, mitigation plans, and suggestions of contingency plans.
  • Advise mass races, organisers and sport governing bodies on how to plan a return to normal activities in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak or similar future situations.
  • Collect and analyse data to determine if COVID-19 survivors have increased risk of developing illness or injury when participating in endurance events and / or vigorous activity and amend best practices based on this analysis.

The Outbreak Prevention Taskforce will hold its first meeting during the week of 20th of April with the aim of producing guidelines as soon as reasonably possible, the statement said.

World Athletics is the apex body for athletics, globally. IIRM has its roots in the American Road Racing Medical Society (ARRMS) formed in 2003 as a division of the former American Running Association. ARRMS later developed a partnership with the Matthew Good Foundation and the Good Family from the UK. The organization was subsequently renamed IIRM.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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