The self-described “largest volleyball event in the world” is moving ahead with plans to take place in Florida next month, despite the state continuing to see a large number of coronavirus cases.
The Amateur Athletic Union announced Wednesday that its Junior National Volleyball Championships will be held on June 16-28 in Orlando, Florida, with a number of precautions against the pandemic.
Among the changes made will be the elimination of neutral spectators, no international teams being allowed, temperature checks at the beginning of each section, encouragement of face masks and the removal of the event’s opening ceremony, water fountains and handshakes.
In justifying the decision to hold the tournament, the AAU cited the economic impact of the tournament on Central Florida:
The 47th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships will be held June 16 - 28 with numerous safeguards in place to help protect all participants and officials. We do not make this decision lightly. This event brings significant economic impact to the Central Florida area -- hotels, restaurants, and other local area businesses -- all benefit from this event as it has become a staple of the local community each year.
You’d imagine the AAU’s own revenue — entry fees alone come in at $895 or $995 per team — also has something to do with it.
As of Wednesday, more than 500 teams in the girls division alone are registered to take part in the event. Teams are allowed 15 players, five bench personnel and 10 chaperones, which means as many as 15,000 people will still be allowed into the event alongside tournament officials and referees.
According to USA Today’s Tom Schad, more than 1,800 teams were previously registered for the tournament, meaning well more than half of them have withdrawn.
Can the AAU volleyball junior nationals be held safely?
While the precautions taken by the AAU are undeniably positive steps, questions still remain around the safety of the event.
The state of Florida opened the door for the AAU to hold its tournament when it deemed sports as an essential business for the state, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has insisted that sporting events can be held safely within the state.
Still, you have to wonder just how wise it can be to tell teams from states all over the country they can travel to the state, which continues to see hundreds of new cases every day. Especially when your stated justification for the event is those teams spending money at restaurants and other local business.
There’s also the fact that all the precautions in the world won’t eliminate the risk of thousands of people occupying a single space. To get a sense of the scale of the event we’re talking about here, this is what the event looked like last year:
One expert that USA Today consulted wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea:
"It certainly portends bad outcomes," said Ryan Demmer, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health. "I think we can say it’s a pretty risky idea."
The AAU promised in its statement that it will cancel the event if state or federal guidelines deem it unsafe.
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