The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that it is allowing players to begin using outdoor team training fields for individual training starting May 6 as part of their Return to Play Phased Protocol. In an email with All for XI, the league declined to make a full copy of this protocol public at this time, but according to their press release, this protocol was developed by their medical task force with details on the health and safety guidelines clubs are expected to follow, along with their local rules regarding coronavirus.
The league’s medical task force is comprised of a team doctor from each of the nine clubs and commissioner Lisa Baird. There are some fairly strict guidelines in place to facilitate the start of training, and full team training continues to be on hold through at least May 15. Players may not use locker rooms, weight rooms, or indoor team training rooms, unless they are receiving medical treatment they cannot perform at home.
- All activity must follow government, state and local mandates
- Each team must have approval from their medical staff to advance to the next phase
- Teams should limit staff to the essential personnel necessary to conduct each phase of training and competition
- Players will undergo a daily symptom screening prior to entering team facilities
- Players who are fulfilling self-quarantine for any reason are not permitted to train with other individuals or at team facilities
- Players, coaches and staff who are sick or have close contact with individuals who are sick must inform the team’s Certified Athletic Trainer, stay home, and not participate in training
- All individuals should practice good hand hygiene, and avoid touching their face, nose and eyes with their hands as much as possible
- Clubs will thoroughly clean and disinfect all commonly touched surfaces daily
According to a spokesperson for the league, there are currently no concrete benchmarks for how the league might progress through the stages of getting ready for competitive play due to the evolving nature of available research about the virus, but the league is keeping its eye on developing testing protocols that will allow them to set stages and progress through them. The league is also committed to allowing every team to have a fair training period before the start of any competition in order to ensure players are at the proper fitness levels and to avoid injuries.
When asked what would happen to the fair training period if one market were to be affected by a second wave of infections that required authorities to re-tighten quarantine protocols, but the other eight teams were unaffected, the league had no comment at this time. Given how the situation is shifting across the United States, there seems to be a sense of wait-and-see in place, which is absolutely fair given the uncertainty everyone is facing. A tweet from Sky Blue FC GM Alyse LaHue gave further details, first confirming that this is voluntary, and that the policy allows a maximum of three players from one household onto team facilities.
For those that read the headline and not the story: this is INDIVIDUAL training / max of 3 from a household. So essentially what players are doing now (at parks etc) except on a controlled pitch. That’s the summary. And we have not made a decision on this here at @SkyBlueFC yet. https://t.co/aUsUwAxjoV— Alyse LaHue (@alahue) May 4, 2020
It makes sense for each club to decide whether they can afford to open up their facilities, even under this strict rubric, given that stay-at-home orders are varying from state to state.
All of this may lead up to a season where players are asked to play closed-door games, perhaps in a format completely unlike a normal season. The league may also look to South Korea, where guidelines on taking athletes’ temperatures, minimizing contact, requiring masks, and quarantine protocols in case of resurgent symptoms are facilitating the re-start of professional sports, albeit without live spectators. The Bundesliga is another sports league attempting to restart play without live spectators, but its May 9 return was delayed by the German government, perhaps a wise decision in light of the reveal that at least one club was not properly following social distancing measures.
How do you feel about NWSL slowly starting to set up the possibility of a 2020 season, whatever format that might be?