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Resuming professional football (soccer) during the COVID-19 pandemic in a country with high infection rates: a prospective cohort study
  1. Yorck Olaf Schumacher1,
  2. Montassar Tabben1,
  3. Khalid Hassoun1,
  4. Asmaa Al Marwani1,
  5. Ibrahim Al Hussein1,
  6. Peter Coyle2,
  7. Ahmed Khellil Abbassi3,
  8. Hani Taleb Ballan3,
  9. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari1,
  10. Karim Chamari1,
  11. Roald Bahr1
  1. 1 Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, Doha, Qatar
  2. 2 Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar
  3. 3 Qatar Stars League, Doha, Qatar
  1. Correspondence to Yorck Olaf Schumacher, Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, Doha, Qatar; yo.schumacher{at}


Objectives The risk of viral transmission associated with contact sports such as football (soccer) during the COVID-19 pandemic is unknown. The aim of this study was to describe the infective and immune status of professional football players, team staff and league officials over a truncated football season resumed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in a country with high infection rates and to investigate the clinical symptoms related to COVID-19 infection in professional football players.

Methods Prospective cohort study of 1337 football players, staff and officials during a truncated football season (9 weeks) with a tailored infection control programme based on preventive measures and regular SARS-CoV-2 PCR swab testing (every 3–5 days) combined with serology testing for immunity (every 4 weeks). Clinical symptoms in positive participants were recorded using a 26-item, Likert-Scale-based scoring system.

Results During the study period, 85 subjects returned positive (cycle threshold (cT) ≤30) or reactive (30<cT<40) PCR tests, of which 36 were players. The infection rate was consistent with that of the general population during the same time period. More than half of infected subjects were asymptomatic, and the remaining had only mild symptoms with no one requiring hospitalisation. Symptom severity was associated with lower cT values. Social contacts and family were the most common sources of infection, and no infection could be traced to training or matches. Of the 36 infected players, 15 presented positive serology during the study period.

Conclusion Football played outdoors involving close contact between athletes represents a limited risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe illness when preventive measures are in place.

  • virus
  • soccer
  • football
  • respiratory
  • illness

Data availability statement

No data are available. No data will be shared.

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Data availability statement

No data are available. No data will be shared.

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  • Twitter @DrTabben, @pvcoyle, @ProfChamari, @roaldbahr

  • KC and RB contributed equally.

  • Contributors YOS, MT, KC and RB have written the first draft of the manuscript, which was checked and edited by KH, IAH, AA, PC, AKA, HTB and AJA. PC has performed the analytical measurements. MT, RB, YOS and KC analysed the data. RB, MT, KC, PC and YOS have prepared the figures.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.