April 28, 2020 / 3:34 PM / 4 months ago

INTERVIEW-Sports-Players should not be rushed back to action-World Players Association

ATHENS, April 28 (Reuters) - Professional athletes across the world should not be rushed back to action once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, and they must have a strong say in determining the conditions for their return, the World Players Association said on Tuesday.

Sports competitions around the world have come to a screeching halt this year as the virus spreads across the globe, starving clubs, leagues and federations of revenues and putting tens of thousands of professional athletes on hold.

"At the moment there is a lot of pressure from the leagues on all continents to resume," WPA Executive Director Brendan Schwab told Reuters in an interview.

"The players can only agree to that (return) if they know that their interests will be protected. The best approach we are seeing is when the leagues... set up joint groups where players have an equal say,... where they are not being rushed."

Several football leagues in Europe, including Germany's Bundesliga, have drawn up plans to be ready to play games without spectators if it means finishing the season and remaining contractually in order with broadcasters and sponsors.

The WPA, an association representing some 85,000 athletes around the world, held a conference call earlier on Tuesday with its affiliated players associations globally to update on the situation.

Since emerging in China late last year, the pandemic has infected almost 3 million people worldwide and killed more than 200,000, raising expectations of a prolonged battle to contain the novel coronavirus.

Every major sports event this year has been postponed and seasons across all sports have been suspended, while the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were moved to 2021, triggering another major calendar reshuffle for next year.

Schwab said any return to action would also need to clarify issues including any potential future interruption if the virus flares up again and that the infection of a player will be treated as a workplace injury by the clubs.

Career-ending or fatal illness due to the virus should have the full protection "of this being a workplace injury," Schwab said. "This is not clear yet in a lot of the leagues."

Several nations' laboratories are working to find protective vaccines and drugs for the disease, but it could be many months before they become widely available due to the need for exhaustive clinical trials of their effectiveness and safety.

"Any return to play scenario would also need to have a strong plan B," said Schwab, adding that there were no guarantees the seasons could finish once they restarted.

Several scientists have talked about the potential of a second wave of infections later in the year.

"The situation is still fluid and interruptions need to be considered," Schwab said.

"What is critical is that all player associations have the strongest possible position at the bargaining table so they can get the balance right between economic viability and public and player health." (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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