Youth soccer tournament kicks off in Raleigh, bringing hundreds together during COVID-19
Posted December 1, 2020 6:22 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2020 7:53 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — Health officials are worried a large, three-day girls soccer tournament that kicks off Friday in Raleigh will contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
At least 325 teams from 35 different states are expected to participate over the weekend, bringing hundreds of people to the WRAL Soccer Park on Perry Creek Road in Raleigh.
When asked about the tournament, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen reiterated the need for following pandemic safety protocols.
"If folks are playing these kinds of sporting events that are of intermediate risk, like soccer," Cohen said, "they are required to be wearing masks – both playing, on the sidelines and the fans."
Gov. Roy Cooper said people need to follow coronavirus precautions.
"I would certainly be concerned about it, and we need to make sure that people abide by mass gathering limits," he said.
Raleigh is a hotbed for youth soccer. Although the sport has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, outdoor games and practices have continued.
The tournament in the city this weekend will host 325 teams. It typically brings 560 teams and more than 600 coaches from across the country and internationally, but the pandemic reduced those numbers.
Thousands are still expected to be in Raleigh this weekend.
"We’ve been able to do this for six months with teams from out of state coming in at times, running tournaments, running showcases and have been able to do it safely without transmitting COVID from one place to another. That is the backbone by which we continue to operate now," said Bryan Bachelder, the director of NCFC tournaments.
Tournament organizers said they've had 30 cases of COVID, with 12 coaches and 18 players testing positive, but none of those cases was picked up on the field.
With the tournament ready to begin, they’ve been sending out safety protocols and prepping the WRAL Soccer Park and other fields across the area.
"We’ve got probably 100 gallons of hand sanitizers here and at the other 12 or 13 complexes we'll be using. We've got signage that meets all NCDHHS requirements. We’ve got limits on the number of spectators on the field," said Bachelder.
State guidelines allow only 100 spectators per field, in addition to players and coaches.
Another change is that players will be required to wear masks while competing.
"It definitely makes the breathing harder, but if we have to wear one thing to be out here, I would do it in a heartbeat," said Laurel Ansbrow, a club soccer player.
When WRAL was onsite earlier, it saw most players and people on the sidelines wearing masks. A few were either not wearing them or wearing them improperly.
There are some exemptions to the rules, for those that have medical conditions. Bachelder says there are few of those.
"There are obviously allowances when they are plenty spaced-out that you can pull your mask down to get a breather when you need to," he said.
Each player is required to have his or her temperature checked and fill out a screening questionnaire before hitting the field.
Organizers said referees will take charge in enforcing the mask requirement for players, and staff will be patrolling the sidelines to ensure parents, coaches and spectators are wearing them.
"I don't think it'll be a superspreader event as long as everyone follows the protocols," said parent Eva Davis.
Bachelder said the expected economic impact from the tournament is $6 million.