Nowhere to hide: The significant impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) measures on elite and semi-elite South African athletes



      To describe the perceptions of South African elite and semi-elite athletes on return to sport (RTS); maintenance of physical conditioning and other activities; sleep; nutrition; mental health; healthcare access; and knowledge of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).


      Cross- sectional study.


      A Google Forms survey was distributed to athletes from 15 sports in the final phase (last week of April 2020) of the level 5 lockdown period. Descriptive statistics were used to describe player demographic data. Chi-squared tests investigated significance (p < 0.05) between observed and expected values and explored sex differences. Post hoc tests with a Bonferroni adjustment were included where applicable.


      67% of the 692 respondents were males. The majority (56%) expected RTS after 1–6 months. Most athletes trained alone (61%; p < 0.0001), daily (61%; p < 0.0001) at moderate intensity (58%; p < 0.0001) and for 30–60 min (72%). During leisure time athletes preferred sedentary above active behaviour (p < 0.0001). Sleep patterns changed significantly (79%; p < 0.0001). A significant number of athletes consumed excessive amounts of carbohydrates (76%; p < 0.0001; males 73%; females 80%). Many athletes felt depressed (52%), and required motivation to keep active (55%). Most had access to healthcare during lockdown (80%) and knew proceedings when suspecting COVID-19 (92%).


      COVID-19 had physical, nutritional and psychological consequences that may impact on the safe RTS and general health of athletes. Lost opportunities and uncertain financial and sporting futures may have significant effects on athletes and the sports industry. Government and sporting federations must support athletes and develop and implement guidelines to reduce the risk in a COVID-19 environment.


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