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Feature: Could Masks be Central to the Return of Football Spectatorship?

The Premier League finally returned last Thursday (June 18th 2020) after being suspended since March following the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but not as we normally know it. An array of initiatives have been put in place to aid the nations fight against the virus, the absence of fans being the most obvious change, stadiums now filled with large banners, plastic cut outs of loyal fans and artificial crowd noise in an attempt to mimic match day atmosphere, although there is really no comparison. For the remainder of this season fans will be unable to attend games, but could compulsory masks be the answer in the future?

For a long time, masks were widely perceived as threatening and frightening, and so it seems odd that soon enough it may be compulsory for people to wear them when surrounded by other members of the public, such as at football games. On June 4th it was announced by government that 'face coverings' must be worn by anyone using public transport, especially in cities like London, where thousands of people rely on the underground tube lines, which in turn become tightly packed. These rules have been widely accepted by society, begging the question: Would it be so difficult to do the same thing for sports spectators? Furthermore, social distancing could still be maintained in the stands, through leaving seats empty between spectators, which in turn would further decrease the chances of transmission, despite the '2m rule' being scrapped from July 4th.

For a long time, masks were deemed useless by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as the products people were using (typically dust masks and masks made of cloth) were not effective at deflecting COVID-19, like surgical masks which have been in short supply since March. However, they've since backtracked on this issue, suggesting masks can be effective when worn by someone who has COVID-19 or is showing symptoms in helping them to not spread the disease. Therefore, if everyone wears face coverings when in public, theoretically the potential for transmission would be dramatically decreased.

However, the global financial and environmental impact of this should be considered if governments worldwide make wearing a mask compulsory when in public, such as seen in Germany and Singapore. Firstly, when looking at the UK, the virus has had a huge financial impact, with the economy facing years of recovery and issues like unemployment and homelessness on the rise. The government has had to free funds to support all areas, namely the business furlough scheme (where workers were paid 80 percent of their wages when unable to work, aiding job retention) which required hundreds of billions of pounds to implement, money which may have been invested in areas such as homelessness if COVID-19 wasn't to have happened.

Environmentally there's similar concern, with many masks being made of single use plastic and polyethylene materials, which after use these are thrown away, eventually finding their way into landfill or our oceans. In the Soko Islands of Hong Kong, it was reported that hundreds of face masks were washing up onto the beach, certainly not helping the 100,000 marine animals that are killed by plastic annually, while also spurring on issues like global warming, with greenhouse gasses being released during the creation and disposal stages of such masks, which worsens issues such as sea level rising that are already threatening to major cities globally like New York and Shanghai.

Back to a more upbeat topic though, since it's return the Premier League has yet again ignited into action, with Liverpool made to wait for the title, after being unable to overcome rivals Everton in the Merseyside derby, while current holders Manchester City look to mount a very unlikely comeback, sparked with a 5-0 win over Burnley on Tuesday. Down the other end of the table, Norwich look to be all but relegated following a 3-0 defeat to Southampton, while AFC Bournemouth continue to struggle, being dealt another blow by an inform Crystal Palace whoa are eyeing European competition, with a 2-0 weekend victory.

Watching from the sofa is not the same, if fans are to be allowed into stadiums again, masks may play an important role.




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