In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, enforcing social distancing has been the norm worldwide and sporting events are no exception. This is particularly important for contact sports like basketball where the players are exposed to a considerable amount of physical contact in the field of play. Therefore the NBA has decided to install movable ‘timeout chairs’ for games to enforce social distancing while teams huddle. This article tries to find out the meaning of this decision and how it will enforce social distancing in the games.

What are ‘Time-out Chairs’?

The NBA has already gone out of its way to ensure a healthy restart to the season by instating a bubble solution whereby most of the league would take place at a single location at Disney World and has also instituted a 113-page handbook to govern health and safety. Rules include banning of double ping pong on the Disney campus and the introduction of movable ‘timeout chairs’ for team huddles during games.

 

Implications of the new rules: Timeout Chairs:

 

According to the new rules, players will not sit on the bench during timeouts and these chairs will be cleaned post every timeout. Huddling originally is hardly compatible with the norms of social distancing as an entire NBA huddle can take place within the 6 feet radius people have been advised to keep between themselves and others ever since the pandemic began and maintaining such a distance will result in the other team getting tipped off on what is being planned. However, this is one of the compromises the NBA is making to limit contact in a contact sport.

Reactions from the sporting community and the press:

Shams Charania of Stadium and the  Athletic classified the chairs as movable chairs to court for the purpose of huddling however the players must sit or stand around chairs apart from the bench and chairs will be cleaned by team staff at the end of each timeout.

Mike Singer of the Denver Post provided more details on the timeout chair setup as well as procedures for roster management and seating arrangement for coaches and players during scrimmages and games. He states that the benches will be divided into 3 sections for Players, coaches, and unassigned. The unassigned seats will be for temporary use along the baseline for the player to player and trainer to player communication. There will also be 2 additional seats in the lower bowl for attending executives and each player will have individual water and towel stations behind his seat. The NBA guidelines also state that active players and four first row coaches do not need to wear masks. However, all remaining personnel needs to wear masks. These masks should be licensed by the NBA and cannot include any words, messages, symbols, logos, or promotions and cannot be an N-95 mask.

The effectiveness of such precautions:

These protocols are all that the NBA can do to combat the pandemic as positive cases continue increasing in Florida. However, there is hardly anything that the NBA can do to make professional basketball completely safe from Covid-19. If the league has to operate successfully then it must do so with precautions that may at the very least seem extreme and at the very most seem hypocritical in the light of the physical contact the players have on the floor. Therefore within the limits of the reason all should be done to limit possible virus exposure.

In the end, these efforts are meant to brighten the future of sports:

Ultimately the NBA is and has to pull out all stops to ensure that the sport remains safe to play amidst the pandemic from which more than 3.74 million people have been affected in the US with 62,788 people on Tuesday as per WHO and Florida also has been a hotspot for the disease which has increased the NBA’s commitment to increasing safety in professional basketball.

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