COVID-19’s Legal Ramifications Part 7: I’ll be Home for Christmas

This series is a discussion of the legal issues in the sports world amid the novel coronavirus. This is a first for our forum, where each of our contributors will be authoring at least one post, discussing either the sports world now, or what will likely happen in the future, during this unprecedented time. One post will be published each day, focusing on a new topic. Please check in each day for updates and feel free to comment with your questions or comments. Together, we will navigate this new landscape. #ubsportslaw #ublawsportsforum

I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Freedom to travel among states in the United States is deemed a protected right under the Constitution. Europe recognizes the freedom to travel among the European Union as a fundamental right. However, due to the public health concerns of COVID-19, travel around the world is still at a standstill. Christmas is still a long ways away, but with the travel restrictions in place, getting home in time for Christmas may be harder than it looks – especially if you are an athlete who has to travel to another country. Most countries, including the United States, all have some sort of travel restriction still in place. The United States and Canada have mutually closed their borders for non-essential travel. President Trump’s travel restrictions to Europe are also still in place.

Three of the four major leagues in the United States have at least one franchise that calls Canada home. Travel, especially international travel, is therefore a necessary aspect for teams in their respective leagues. Travel restrictions are going to be a major hurdle for leagues to jump over in order to continue their season.

It is possible that the leagues in the United States resume before travel restrictions are lifted. John Scott reported:

Many European players are in their home nations and could be restricted from entering the United States. A few Sabres players are currently spending quarantine in their home nations. Forward Victor Olofsson is currently spending quarantine time in Sweden, newly acquired Dominik Kahun is in Germany, young defenseman Henri Jokiharju is in Finland, and Jeff Skinner is in Canada.

When COVID-19 began to spread rapidly, the President issued travel restrictions for persons coming from the “Schengen Area”. Non-United States Citizens and non-green card holders who have been in the Schengen Area may not travel to the United States. Germany, Sweden, and Finland are the 3 of 26 nations that make up the “Schengen Area”.

ec.europa.eu

As many players from other nations come to the U.S to play under a P-Visa and may not be United States citizens or green card holders, they may not be allowed to return. This is, of course, barring any exceptions made by the United States Government allowing them to travel to the US.

Furthermore, according to the Department of State, the CDC requires “all travelers, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, who have been in the Schengen Area, or any CDC Level 3 country, in the last 14 days to self-quarantine for 14 days.” If players are not tested right away, then many will have to be quarantined in the U.S for 2 weeks. This will further delay the return of sports in the US. For leagues such as the NHL, which have franchises in Canada, they must be wary that anyone entering Canada must self quarantine for 14 days. This is the predicament Jeff Skinner finds himself in. He is currently in the middle of his 14 day quarantine. If other players enter the country, they will have to follow suit.

A really interesting further wrinkle to this travel hurdle is that players are traveling from countries that took different approaches to combating COVID-19. Germany has taken strict social distancing measurements. The United States has taken social distancing measures in order to combat the virus as well, but the measures vary state to state. In Belarus, almost nothing is in place to combat spread of the virus. In fact, President Alexander Lukashenko was seen playing a game of hockey while the outbreak was in progress. This is the same for Sweden, which is trying to reach herd immunity, and as a result there are basically no restrictions in place and life for Swedes is as usual.

This means that certain players are at a higher risk of exposure and could be a massive public health liability. As mentioned above, Olofsson is currently in Sweden where there are no restrictions in place. Should players in such danger zones be allowed back in the United States, especially if they are not tested before hand? If players are not tested, it is possible the players are carriers of the virus, but are asymptomatic. This increases the chance of exposing other players, thus creating a public health liability. If there is a second wave through a league, there will definitely be a further shut down of not only that specific league, but also other leagues for fear of further exposure. What about athletes such as Kahun, who would be returning from Germany? Germany is reported to be the epitome of handling the virus. Should there be leniency toward players returning from countries that took a stricter approach to combating the virus? Should they not be tested or quarantined? The logical answer is no. They should still be tested.

The best answer to the hurdles is testing. Any player returning from a different country should be tested right away. This is of course easier said than done, but possible. This is what the Bundesliga is planning on doing. As Courtney mentioned in her article, sports will inevitably make a comeback and the German Soccer League seems to be the guinea pig for reopening sports. Even though it is not set in stone, reports from Germany have emerged detailing that the Bundesliga (German Soccer) and Bundesliga 2 are planning to resume their domestic competition on May 9, but only in a limited fashion. The plan is to minimize the number of fans in the stadium (just over 300) and for all players to be tested for the virus. Dr. Tim Meyer, who heads the DFL’s task force, said the league would need about 14,400 tests over a 10-week period to complete the season. The NHL, MLB or NBA could follow a similar path. They could obtain tests for athletes entering the country and prioritize those players.

It is not clear from the article whether the German Soccer League will choose a game location and restrict travel, thus decreasing the chances of contracting the virus and spreading it. But, with travel restrictions in place among states, the NHL could choose one state (like Florida where sports are considered an essential business) and play out the rest of the season there. The reduction in travel throughout the country will decrease exposure and allow for sports to continue.

These turbulent times and with travel restrictions in place, reviving sports back to normal will not be an easy task. However, the restrictions will not last forever. Travel and sports will resume again.

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