Sharing sports equipment is “unlikely” to transmit COVID-19 from one person to another, researchers have concluded.

A team from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine say the risk is “is lower than was once thought” after they carried out a series of tests on various sporting kit.

Speaking in June 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that cricket balls are a “natural vector” of the virus.

But, the Strike Study has found evidence to suggest that coronavirus is less transferrable among absorbent materials like cricket gloves and tennis balls, when compared with non-porous equipment like racing saddles and rugby balls. Close contact of players is more likely to contribute to the spread.

James Calder, from Imperial College and Fortius Clinic, said: “The findings in this study are important not only for elite athletes, but also for community sports and our schools.

“It shows that the risk of transmission when sharing sports equipment is lower than was once thought and it highlights the importance of promoting other infection control measures in sports, whilst urging equipment manufacturers to identify surfaces that may be less likely to retain viable virus.”

The trial involved applying high and low doses of COVID-19 to a variety of sporting equipment, which included a cricket glove, a football, a golf ball, a piece of gym pit foam, a horse saddle, both red and white cricket balls, a rugby ball and a tennis ball, as well as a piece of stainless steel as a control material.

Each item was then tested for different time amounts, one, five, 15, 30 and 90 minutes, to see whether the live virus could be transferred.

The low dose of the virus was still detectable on seven of the 10 items after one minute, one of the 10 after five minutes – the horse saddle – and none of the 10 after 15 minutes.

When the high dose was applied, virus was recoverable on nine out of the 10 items after one and five minutes – all except the cricket glove – six out of 10 after 30 minutes, and two out of 10 after 90 minutes (the rugby ball and horse saddle).

Dr Emily Adams, a senior lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “Anything that is slightly absorbent like a tennis ball or some of the leathery cricket balls, it’s very difficult to transfer any live virus off those. So, we think that transmission from sports equipment is probably very low in these cases.

“Basically, in many sports, like tennis, really the public health intervention should be focused on players and how players interact before a game, during a game and after a game and in transport rather than the sports equipment itself.”

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