The Youth and Sports Ministry finally released a protocol on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the sporting world on Tuesday night, in what some considered a rather tardy move amid the rapidly growing global fear of contagion.

The protocol was released only after some of Indonesia’s major sports leagues took the initiative to suspend competition to minimize the spread of the infection, including the Indonesian Basketball League (IBL) tournament last week, soccer league’s Liga 1 and Liga 2, as well as volleyball league Proliga.

Sports expert Tandiyo Rahayu of Semarang State University said the ministry should have acted faster in responding to the outbreak, adding that many sports communities were unaware that sports and sporting events were social activities that often involved crowds that could potentially help spread the coronavirus.

 “Most of the provisions in the protocol are in line with the World Health Organization protocol, as well as those coming from the national health stakeholders,” she said on Wednesday. 

But she criticized the nature of the protocol, which is not binding but rather suggests voluntary measures.

The seven-point protocol recommends, among other things, that sports federations do not travel abroad for international competition and suspend national events.

“It should have suspended all sports events at the national and regional levels. We must postpone all activities or events that can potentially attract people to gather. Even the Central Java administration, for instance, has postponed the Regional Students’ Games week,” she said.

Djoko Pekik Irianto of Yogyakarta State University said the ministry should have not underestimated the virus threat.

And now that the protocol has been issued, the ministry should keep track of whether or not their recommendations are being implemented, he said.

“It’s time for monitoring,” he said.

Djoko, who is also the head of the Indonesian Sports Professor Association (APKORI), said that tryouts overseas should be replaced with other programs like simulations of competitions.

Fear of COVID-19 has also forced several sports federations to put the brakes on athlete training and to provide alternative training programs for athletes in self-isolation.

The Indonesian rowing squad was initially planning to depart for a training camp in Amsterdam, the Netherlands at the end of this month to prepare for a Tokyo Olympics qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland. But now they are abandoning the plan due to concerns over the outbreak and because the qualification event was also canceled.

The Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) suspended two Sirnas competitions in Purwokerto, Central Java and in Bogor, West Java, which were initially scheduled to start next week.

“The postponement is effective until further notice. We have announced it to all the PBSI’s regional boards and related stakeholders so they understand that the decision was made to minimize the spread of the coronavirus,” PBSI’s secretary-general Achmad Budiharto said.

Badminton players returning from international sporting events, including the recently concluded All England tournament, will be isolated upon arrival in Indonesia, under the PBSI’s recent initiative to prevent the virus spread.

Meanwhile, Tandiyo said the ministry should also recommend that the public continue to do physical exercise at home during self-isolation.

“Social distancing must be done firmly. The Sports Ministry should be a leading sector in encouraging the wider public to do individual sports [to maintain their health], including through campaigns on social media,” she said.