Analysis

Mott MacDonald plan for Covid-safe sports venues

24 September 2020

Mott MacDonald and safety and security specialist Restrata have developed a five-step strategy to allow sporting venues to welcome fans back into stadia as and when Covid-related restrictions allow.

The approach uses performance-based epidemiology principles alongside established digital technology to enable stadia owners to stage sports events while meeting Covid-19 laws and guidelines. 

The strategy addresses the risks, and the fact that safety certificates will only be issued if the requirements of local authorities, police and transport operators have been met both inside and outside the stadium.

James Middling, Mott MacDonald built environment sector lead, said: "Our work on the Nightingale hospitals was a collaboration between our built environment and healthcare specialist teams, working with our major sports events teams who would normally deliver major games like the Olympics, to deliver traditional healthcare facilities in the fraction of the time.

"Our alliance with Restrata builds upon similar infrastructure epidemiology work we have done in aviation, justice, education and health, and sees a collaboration of our sports design teams, international health and infectious disease specialists with Restrata’s security technologies, to deliver a similar highly effective deliverable solution." 

Here are the five steps.

Step one: define the challenges both inside and outside the stadium 

The match day experience and exposure risk vary across the different fan ticketing packages in terms of how fans arrive at the stadium, what they do inside the stadium and the environment they interact with.

A graduated inventory of fan behaviours and risks must be developed to model the fan journey from their home to the ground and through the stadium. This will also integrate the potential impact of Covid-19 incidence in the local community, how fans will arrive at the stadium using public transport, and the limitations these may present in addition to those inside the stadium. 

Step two: establish a baseline through a compliance audit 

Where national government or sports authorities have issued guidelines, clubs need to understand what is required to comply, where they have current compliance gaps and bottlenecks to achieving the allowable capacity in the stadium.

Understanding the levels of staffing and stewarding required to meet the guidelines is essential, as is the increase in cleaning protocols and other operational needs.

Clubs also need to understand the impact of the regulations on the venue revenue and operating profits in order to make capital investment and operational decisions.

Restrata's Osman reveals how the system works

The fans need to be patient and follow the rules and the stadium operators need to show how they are managing the risks through applying world-leading methods.– James Middling, Mott MacDonald

Step three: performance-engineered solutions 

This approach offers clubs opportunities for improved performance and outcomes through a bespoke strategy that enhances risk management beyond the guidelines. Using complex, disease-specific epidemiological evidence overlaid on the compliance audit, it is possible to see how guidelines can be met and exceeded, and how challenges can be approached in a different way.

First, the risk of infection transmission throughout the stadium is modelled, identifying hotspots for risk of transmission and assessing how effective the existing guidelines are in addressing these risks.

A targeted package of interventions to further reduce the risk of transmission is then identified with their relative risk reduction impacts.

Finally, the reduced risk profile for the stadium can be used to reassure fans of the club’s commitment to spectator safety and to justify increased fan capacity above the limits that social distancing guidelines alone can achieve.

Step four: interventions

Having already established the interventions that could be implemented across the stadium to further reduce the risk of virus transmission (beyond the social distancing guidelines), a business case approach is used to evaluate each intervention on the basis of risk reduction, returns/benefits and cost.

This includes both physical interventions, such as the supply of clean air through buildings services systems, ICT technologies to reduce the number of touchpoints, and Covid-19 security technologies to monitor fan behaviours, and operational interventions such as stewarding, security and cleaning procedures.

Effective communication and practical enforcement of interventions also needs to be considered. 

Step five: manage residual risk 

Having assessed and reduced the risks through steps one to four, there remains residual Covid-19 risk to manage. Technology management systems can monitor the risk, offer proof of compliance, and provide continual feedback during use on how the interventions are performing and what further adjustments are required in the future. With a data-driven approach to monitoring spectator behaviours after implementation of interventions, clubs can fine-tune their risk reduction strategies to demonstrate to fans and authorities a commitment to protecting their wellbeing. 

As part of season ticket or pre-check risk assessments, health screening on non-matchdays can also improve community health and support track and trace. Information on fan movements and adjacencies through the stadium can be analysed for future contact tracing of subsequently-diagnosed Covid-19 cases who attended the event. This data is stored securely in the cloud, allowing transparent and open collaboration with the relevant authorities.

We have a clear, unequivocal message for when the 'pause button' on live sport is released: technology is a necessity to minimise the risk posed by this pandemic and provide a safe environment for fans.– Botan Osman, Restrata

What the team says

Mott MacDonald's Middling said: "As fans start to return to our stadia, we need to work together to keep each other safe while enjoying a great day of sport. The fans need to be patient and follow the rules and the stadium operators need to show how they are managing the risks through applying world-leading methods."

Botan Osman, Restrata CEO, said [to the right in the photograph]: "In light of the government’s announcement [on 22 September], now is not the time to sit on hands and await further advice. Rather, we believe the announcement should serve as the impetus that sports teams and clubs need to double down and prepare to influence policy by embracing a comprehensive technology-led bio-security solution, encompassing people and process alongside technology to tackle Covid-19.

"We have a clear, unequivocal message for when the 'pause button' on live sport is released: technology is a necessity to minimise the risk posed by this pandemic and provide a safe environment for fans.

"Our recent government pilot trial at the Oval proved that fans’ ability to comply with government safety measures was greatly enhanced by live data analysis and technical governance. Our system provides an environment that exceeds safety measures recommended by the government and we believe fans safety should be put first."

Chelsea Stefanska, global health security specialist at Mott MacDonald, said: "Data is empowering. To be able to objectively identify and monitor the areas of highest risk enables us to develop targeted interventions that will make a demonstrable impact on transmission risk within the stadium.

"Compliance with guidelines is only the first step and the bare minimum; to actually reduce risk of virus transmission among spectators and avoid an outbreak linked to a sports event, we need to understand fan behaviours as they relate to a respiratory virus and enforce practical and effective mitigation measures within and around the stadium."