The NCAA has labeled water polo as a “high risk” sport for transmitting Covid-19 between athletes.
The NCAA Sport Science Institute gave risk classifications for each NCAA sport as well as updated testing guidelines in its 29-page “Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition” released on Friday.
Water polo joins basketball, football, ice hockey, volleyball and wrestling as the only sports in the high-risk category due to “frequent close contact among all competitors” according to the paper.
The NCAA assertion differs from those of other sporting organizations. In April, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) labeled water polo a “moderate risk” along with several other sports also described as “involv[ing] close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants OR intermittent close contact OR group sports…”
In April the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and Politecnico di Torino published a survey in which leaders of sports organizations throughout the country cited water polo as among the safest of all team sports.
One factor in its perceived safety compared to other team sports is that the coronavirus “doesn’t survive in chlorinated water,” according to infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD of Johns Hopkins in a June 4 story in Health. The NCAA makes no mention of chlorinated water in its report.
Lacrosse advocates appear to have successfully lobbied the NCAA to reclassify the sport as an “intermediate” risk after having been placed in the high-risk category along with water polo in the first edition of the document published in July. In a USLacrosse Magazine piece published Friday Dr. Karen Sutton, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon and former collegiate lacrosse athlete, asserted that there was “…no data to suggest that boys’ lacrosse should be included in the higher-risk category.”
“The nature of the sport does not lead to prolonged periods of close contact. Players are constantly moving, don’t share equipment and the game is played outdoors,” Sutton wrote in support of the decision.
The NCAA is recommending that varsity water polo athletes, and those participating in other sports deemed “high risk,” are tested for the virus every one to two weeks prior to pre-season training, once weekly as training begins, and three times per week on nonconsecutive days during the season, a stricter regime than ones recommended to lower risk sports.
The delayed and abbreviated NCAA men’s water polo season is slated to begin in January.