Let baseball, water polo restart, but caution understandable: Professor

Andy Hoepelman, professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at UMC Utrecht and accomplished former water polo athlete, understands the government's strategy with being careful about restarting contact sports. In this coronavirus crisis, safety comes first, he said to NOS. "Caution remains desirable. In my view, it is a good strategy, but baseball should be possible again," Hoepelman said.

Now that the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in the Netherlands is falling, the government has given the go ahead for many non-contact sports and swimming to start up again. But contact sports like judo and boxing, and team sports are still banned until September. 

Baseball is considered a contact sports and therefore still banned, but Hoepelman thinks this is unnecessary. "The contact in baseball is limited. In addition, it is outside and usually in the sun. All factors that prevent infections with the coronavirus," he said to the broadcaster. 

The Dutch baseball and softball association agrees, with the Dutch men’s national baseball team itching to get ready for a chance to qualify for the Olympics. The baseball and softball season would also normally be underway by now.

"We are currently more concerned with the 5 million athletes in the Netherlands than the Olympic Games," a spokesperson for the Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF told NL Times. They are working internally to develop limited scale experiments in the sports world to demonstrate the impact Covid-19 could have if sports once sporting competitions open up more widely.

According to Hoepelman, swimming should be encouraged now.  It’s ideal for the elderly, the risk of infection is very low, and indoor pools are usually well-ventilated so chlorine vapors can escape. “Exercise is important for fitness, and the fitter you are, the more resistant you are to a virus,” he said.

Hoepelman also thinks the chlorine should be considered as a reason to allow water polo to restart, too, even though it is a physical contact sport. Dutch water polo association KNZB told NL Times the country's top players are training, but will not take part in competitions until the Cabinet gives the green light.

Hoepelman, himself a 1976 Olympics bronze medalist in water polo, understands the frustration of top athletes and their urge to get back to training. "Elite athletes are usually healthy people. The urge to start again is understandable," he said to the broadcaster. "But for some sports we still need to be careful. There are also risks for gyms," he continued. "Very good ventilation is really required there to prevent infections."

Still, because little is known about the virus involved in the global pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, there is justification for caution. "We must not forget that we do not know much about the virus yet. That is why we have to look closely at how the relaxation of the cabinet measures on June 1 and July 1 turns out," he said.

Certainly, the country's elite water polo players have no plans to skip the Cabinet's rules about the issue. "Our Dutch selection has already started training, but the competitions are just not allowed yet, and we are going along with that," the Dutch association KNZB told NL Times.

“I am an optimist. There will be a second wave, but less intense. And I think there will be a vaccine early next year. ”