How the world of sports reacted to the Spanish Flu

While people were celebrating Armistice Day in autumn 1918 an extremely deadly virulent strain emerged behind the scenes.

After the end of World War I a hidden enemy continued killing millions of people over the globe leaving over 50 million dead bodies behind.
Spain was the first to report the outbreak of the world wide epidemic and since then the causing virus is known as the Spanish Flu.
We still do not fully understand the origins of the pathogen and how it developed itself into a human virus but one thing is certain. It spreaded unexpectedly fast and infected half a billion people.

American Red Cross care for infected during “Spanish Flu Epidemic ” 1918

We can see COVID-19 spreading with the same speed and learning from the past strict measures made by governments all over the world seem reasonable beside the fact that its morality rate is nowhere near to Spanish Flu’s. The best way to prevent the spreading of the virus is minimalizing contact between individuals. We could not find a better place crowded with thousands of human individuals than a sport event. Thankfully the world of sports reacted to the outbreak of coronavirus as fast as possible.

The cancellation and postponement of sporting events are a common occurrence nowadays. Almost every major events from F1 Grand Prixs through the NBA season to the Olympic games were affected. But if cancelling great gatherings is the only way stopping viruses getting from one human to another why didn’t the sport associatons reacted to the Spanish Flu as fast as it was needed? Or did they eventually?

The Spanish Flu was highy underestimated all over the world until it started killing men, women and even children in great numbers.

At the time MLB was the largest American pro league. According to FANBUZZ, „(MLB) season ended shortly before the worst of the flu pandemic during the fall of 1918. Public health was so bad by the time the 1918 World Series came around, though, Major League Baseball went so far as to ban the “spitball” from being thrown.” Doctors were fighting in Europe and healthcare was in very poor conditions and the virus killing more and more people teams started to step back from games and the season came to its end. But with the Montreal Canadians and the Seattle Metropolitans having the same record they are remembered as co-champions.

Highschool and college football games, soccer and boxing matches were cancelled and public gatherings were banned in general.

Despite all the problems caused by the war and the flu, in 1920 the Belgian Olympic Committee decided to hold the Olypic games mainly to fade bad news about hunger, famine and bad post war circumstances. They sent out invitations to the games of the Seventh Olympia to be held in Antwerp.
They excluded the members of the late German alliance.

Polish legionist playing soccer 1918


Both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour De France were held in 1919 over the ruins of Europe the war left behind. The 1919 Tour De France is still known as one of the toughest race ever held simply because of the lack of usable roads and the number of finishing riders were the lowest in history with only 10 competitors finishing the race.

With that in mind it we can understand easier why cancelling sporting events is a reasonable and right step to do in these circumstances we are all in.
Learning from the mistakes of the past is vital for our future especially during the times of an epidemic.

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