04 Jul

The first scientific study of cricket balls as potential vectors of coronavirus showed the risk of transmission to be very low.

The paper, which will be published within the next ten days and has been obtained by The Times, is entitled ‘Sports balls as potential SARS-CoV-2 transmission vectors’ and should act as reassurance for recreational players now that the government has given the green light for the game to return on July 11.

The paper, the first undertaken specifically with sport in mind, has been authored by scientists from Imperial College London, University of Manchester, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and Phoenix Hospital Group in Harley Street. It has also been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Public Health in Practice, a journal that specialises in the field of population health.

The study will be of particular interest to the ECB and cricketers everywhere, as they assess their relationship with the game in the age of coronavirus.

Last week Boris Johnson described the cricket ball as a “vector of disease — potentially”. This was challenged by senior figures in cricket such as ex England captain Michael Vaughan. These findings should now reassure players that this is not the case. The research was instigated at the beginning of June and the paper was accepted for publication yesterday, after a number of experiments that were conducted on tennis balls, footballs, cricket balls and golf balls with spiked, or inactive, coronavirus.

The first two experiments involved swabbing balls with low and high doses of inactive virus all of which produced negative results. Pipetting high doses of inactive virus, intended to replicate a highly infectious person coughing, sneezing, or putting saliva on the ball, produced positive traces that remained for short periods of time. The virus was then found to be easily removed by using dry tissue or moist wipes, or by dropping or rolling the ball across the ground.

In essence, the research suggests that although someone who is highly infectious could transmit the virus on to the ball, basic hygiene measures that are easily absorbed into the game negate the risk, even before consideration is given to the effects of the ball being bowled, hit or thrown into the ground.

One of the authors of the report, Justin Stebbing from Imperial College, said: “There’s lots of work going on regarding transmission routes of Covid-19 but to the best of my knowledge no one has looked at sports balls as a vector. This simple experiment showed that in the laboratory, viral particles don’t stay on sports balls when wiped or dropped, meaning that the risk of infection via these is very low indeed, if at all.

“It’s hard extrapolating this work, using inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus, to the real world, but hopefully this gives reassurance for those wanting to play cricket, football or other sports.”

John Stephenson


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