Bill Gates explains why most sports will be gone a lot longer than fans realize


AP/REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

    Sports fans are itching for their favorite leagues to recommence after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the world of athletics last month.
    But some of the most impressive minds on the planet think the return of sports will take a lot longer than many die-hards realize.
    In an interview with Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show," Bill Gates shared his thoughts on which measures would be necessary for the US — and the rest of the world — to move past the crisis and regain a sense of normality. And unfortunately for sports fans, his outlook on the prospects of a speedy revival of professional athletics is not particularly promising.
    The Microsoft cofounder said he was hopeful the spread would be curtailed within the next few months. But he also stressed that sporting events would probably be the last of societal norms to return given the high risk of widespread contagion in a close range.
    "About 80% of people are going to change their activities. If you get the other 20% to go along with that nationwide, then the disease numbers will flatten — hopefully in the next month — and start to go down hopefully in the month after that," Gates said. "When they've gone down a lot, then in a tasteful way, using prioritized testing, you can start to reopen a lot of things, like schools and work. Probably not sports events because the chance of mass spread there is quite large."
    Officials across the US appear to be on the same page. In California — one of the first major sites of the US epidemic — authorities aren't expecting a full recovery anytime soon.
    Knowing that the number of coronavirus cases is likely to spike if social-distancing measures are eased prematurely, Dr. Jeffrey Smith — who is the executive officer of Santa Clara County — thinks fans won't see "any sports games until at least Thanksgiving."
    "And we'd be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving," he added, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is not something that's going to be easy to do."
    Santa Clara County is home to the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, the San Jose Sharks of the NHL, and Stanford's many sports teams. While many fans are looking to league commissioners and other sports authorities for insight on when they'll be able to safely pack into stadiums to cheer on their teams, the actual decision-makers are the leaders of local and state governments.
    Some sports leagues, MLB and the NBA most notable among them, have discussed plans to play at least part of their seasons in isolation with players quarantined in hotels in between games. And while the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has suggested the "bubble" idea could work, he has acknowledged it's impossible without the availability of mass testing for COVID-19.
    "The problem is that no one has the set of circumstances of what a month from now is going to be like," Rachel Nichols, the host of ESPN's "The Jump," told Insider. "We all want to swarm to solve it, but no one knows what it's going to be like a month from now, and that's coming from the highest level of medical experts in our country saying they don't know what it's going to be like a month from now. We just have to wait and see."
    Gates acknowledged there was immense amount of economic pain and frustration that comes with the continuation of stay-at-home measures but insists it's "the only way" to ensure that COVID-19 "won't spread in some very, very big way."
    "To get back economically, taking the pain extremely now and telling those who wouldn't curb their activities, 'No, you must go along with the rest of society and not associate in a way that we have exponential increase in these cases,' is the right thing, even though it's extremely painful," Gates said.
    "Things can reopen if we do the right things in the summer, but it won't be completely normal," he added.

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