H1N1 and Professional Tennis

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H1N1 and Professional Tennis
(Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

It is now October, and here in Toronto, the weather is cooling and the leaves are beginning to turn into brilliant colors. With the cooler weather we also enter flu season along with the rest of the northern hemisphere. This 2009 year is a bit unique however. Where seasonal H1N1 historically has ruled the influenza roost, the relatively new novel H1N1 (Swine Flu) has begun competing with seasonal H1N1 and all of the other Influenza A viruses. This one appears different though, and that is because it is.

Novel H1N1 is a virus that has gone significant enough genetic change to "create" a new virus for which we have no immunity to at this stage. The virus is a re assortment of four known strains of influenza, one endemic in human, one in avian, and two in swine.

No, I'm not a virologist, a biologist, or anyone else that may dabble in this for pay, however I have been drawn to evolutionary theory for some time, and about 4 years ago, began reading about influenza in greater detail. It's fascinating stuff, and the influenza virus is an easy (easier) way to watch evolution in action.

Since the strain is new, and we have no immunity to it, it has great potential to cause health systems around the world significant stress. Will it be 1918 all over again? We hope not, and based on the secondary condition of bacterial pneumonia that the infected obtained back in 1918 (and many, many, many died), we have a better chance to deal with those types of issues. That is of course if the virulence of the influenza changes for the worse, and we simply don't know if it will at this point. Currently there are 4,282 deaths worldwide according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, while "Flutrackers" (Google it) is showing 5,486 as of about four hours ago. This number has about doubled since mid-august.

Believe me, this post isn't meant to scare, or bring fear to the reader, it's merely a take on the situation at hand. It is actually our flu season and yes, school has started. As cases start rising, so will greater unfortunate eventualities.

So what's your point?
Well, Tennis and sports in general have some thinking to do here. From Football to Basketball, to Golf and Tennis, the sporting world brings large numbers of people together and groups of people around the world. No, it's certainly not time to limit events or anything even remotely along those lines, but what if this takes a turn for the worse? How does the International Tennis Federation respond? How does the I.T.F. respond to sponsors, fans, and its players? At what point do Tennis governing bodies actually put thought into action? At what point does anyone? Is the I.T.F. even the responsible party here?

Making a recent switch from the private sector (financial) to the public sector (provincial government), I've now seen two very different organizations actually performing very similar and thorough planning. In the case of the public sector organization, they have a duty to inform, guide, and assist the public, and its employee population. Contingency plans are made, revised, reviewed, and approved. These documents allow the organization to pro-actively make decisions that are in the best interest of its success, its employees health, and often the health of a greater population. If you work in a larger sized private company, there's a good chance they have one, and dusted it off recently to ensure that plans have been updated to the current environment. It you are in the public sector, surely you have quite detailed planning in place.

Does the I.T.F. have a formal plan in place should something like this affect the federation? Well, I emailed the I.T.F., and asked them. I received a very kind note from a Communications Officer in the U.K. stating that it is very difficult to have a specific contingency plan (addressing H1N1) that could address all events around the world, sanctioned by the I.T.F., and those that are not. There are of course junior events, David Cup, Fed Cup, Wheelchair Tennis, and the primary professional circuits. The response went on to note that when regional/national bodies ask, they are advised to consult their local health authorities. The I.T.F. confirmed their watchful eye, and will make appropriate decisions based on the events.

So what I get from this is that contingency planning isn't foreign to the I.T.F., however there doesn't appear to be a unified plan in place that may specifically address this event. They will react accordingly based on national/regional signals from health authorities. The global reach of the I.T.F. makes a unified contingency plan near impossible. That doesn't suggest that there isn't any kind of contingency plan, however there was no indication of a plan that addresses this pandemic event.

I see the complexity in this matter and certainly respect their decision to take signals from local health authorities, however because of the differing preparedness and response of national governments and health authorities, I would like to suggest that if the I.T.F. cannot build a single unified contingency preparation plan for its global presence, then it build or adopt a single response plan to various situations. Not all national or health authorities will react with Z if situation Q occurs. That is troubling given that players may be coming from all parts of the globe and expect a reasonable amount of contingency preparedness ensuring their safety. This is what multi-national corporations are doing, isn't it? Why not build a response plan that bases its decisions off of a standard that is acting in the Federations best interests? Does the Federation know whether Egypt will react the same to the U.K. if situation Q occurs? (I'm really asking). I think Egypt and the U.K should react the same, and the Federation as well.

I'm not attempting to bash the I.T.F. here, I think they are in a unique situation here based on their truly global reach. It is complex with so many local and regionally sanctioned events, and it is a difficult thing to put in place, when really, no one has the answers for what tomorrow brings.

Virulence may never increase, and if we are a bit lucky, the influenza settles itself and eventually becomes nothing more than a seasonal pain to human kind, it almost surely will one way or another. I hope that organizations that bring many people together in varying regions of this globe work to prepare and pro-actively take action that is in the best interest of everyone.
I am not asking anyone to put anything in motion, just prepare.

I have five tennis racquet's in my tennis bag.

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