The Coronavirus Patient Had a Question: Don’t You Lead a Soccer Team?

He swapped his blazer and tie for the uncomfortable match of private protecting gear and left the boardroom for the emergency room at Lisbon’s navy hospital.

There, as a physician pressed into service within the coronavirus pandemic, he confronted feverish, coughing sufferers and helped line up their care. Some of them, although, had a curious query.

“From just looking at my eyes they would say: ‘Hey, are you not the Sporting president? Can I have a selfie?’”

Frederico Varandas is certainly the president of Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of many nation’s greatest soccer groups. He can also be Dr. Frederico Varandas, a reserve navy doctor who accomplished a tour in Afghanistan a decade in the past earlier than switching his profession.

Varandas, 40, was lately on name on the hospital for about six weeks, working 12-hour shifts treating navy workers members and their households. His main process was to check and consider the sufferers as they arrived, earlier than handing off the extra critical ones to his colleagues within the intensive care unit.

Though not the type of navy responsibility he was used to — he got here below enemy hearth with a battalion of coalition solders in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a decade earlier — serving within the battle in opposition to the coronavirus introduced a completely different set of challenges.

There was the danger of contracting a novel, doubtlessly deadly illness that was not absolutely understood. And the work, he recalled, was extra time consuming than could be typical, as a result of medics had been required to disinfect their gear — usually goggles, gloves and a masks — between consultations.

Still, there have been lighter moments, like being acknowledged even via his private protecting gear.

In Portugal, the presidents of the Primeira Liga’s three huge soccer groups — Benfica, Porto and Sporting — have nationwide recognition on par with the pinnacle of state or the prime minister. Varandas stated he couldn’t recall the variety of instances he was requested to pose for images by the point he accomplished his final shift on the finish of April.

He will not be the one sports activities determine pressed into medical service within the world battle in opposition to the virus. In Canada, for example, Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in hockey turned medical scholar, has been gathering protective equipment for workers and also helping with efforts to track the spread of the virus.

Though unexpected, Varandas found his medical service fulfilling.

“Sports had stopped in Portugal and I thought that I am more important to the country working as a doctor,” said Varandas, who this week agreed to talk about his experience.

After serving in the military, attending the rank of lieutenant, he spent two years at a small-time club based near Lisbon, before being handed the opportunity for what he described as his dream job: becoming Sporting’s head doctor. Varandas held the position for seven years before, in 2018, he entered the race to become the club’s president just as Sporting slipped into one of the darkest periods in the team’s history.

The team’s finances were in disarray, and the former president was forced out amid a mutiny from the club’s membership. Worst of all, nine first-team players walked out on their contracts after being set upon by a group of the team’s disgruntled fans.

Varandas was elected after a bitter campaign that was widely followed by the news media in Portugal and included nightly televised debates reminiscent of national elections. “Football in Portugal is crazy, it’s like a religion, it’s sick,” Varandas said.

Varandas has had mixed results. By the time the coronavirus pandemic struck Portugal, the finances of the club had largely been stabilized, but results on the field were poor, with the team almost 20 points behind the league leader, Porto, at the time the league was suspended in March. A battle with the club’s organized fan groups has become so severe that Varandas said the state now provides him with a security detail.

The soccer stoppage in Portugal, which mirrors the pause in much of the sports world, has only brought newer and more immediate problems.

After finishing his shifts at the hospital, Varandas dialed in for lengthy late night calls with board members to map out a plan to steer the club through the unexpected drama of having its season frozen in time.

“I continued controlling things because football stopped, but the club continued,” Varandas said. “It was not easy at all that first month and a half trying to cope with the hospital work and football.”

Board members, including Varandas, agreed to 50 percent pay cuts, while he called players individually to persuade them to reduce their salaries by 40 percent for three months.

As part of the protocol, Varandas is among the sporting officials who are required to undergo regular tests for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, because he is in contact with the playing squad. To him, the process is based on creating the correct image around soccer’s return as much as being rooted in science. Varandas recalled that he was not tested once while he worked at the hospital where he was regularly in contact with coronavirus patients.

“Footballers are tested more than doctors working in hospitals,” he said. “For me that’s really stupid, it’s political. I understand it politically, but scientifically this is ridiculous.”

Varandas, who specializes in sports medicine, not epidemiology, remarked that in Portugal, restaurants and kindergartens have reopened without similar requirements for mass testing.

He sees a far bigger challenge on the horizon.

Even with games on course to return, Portuguese teams face huge financial challenges for the foreseeable future. The country has for the past two decades punched above its weight in being a producer of world class talent, extracting millions of dollars in revenue from some the world’s richest teams thanks to a premium on their “Made in Portugal” brand.

The ability to do that is now in doubt, with figures like the chief executives of the Bundesliga and the executive vice chairman of Manchester United saying the $7 billion a year global transfer market is headed for a major correction.

“I don’t know what the value of a footballer is now. Sporting, Porto, Benfica, all the clubs in Portugal, we have to sell players.”

Varandas said the fallout from the coronavirus had exposed the fragility of the world, and structures like Portugal’s export-driven talent model.

“This is an experience you can’t forget,” he said. “It’s incredible to see everything just stop, something that you could have never imagined happening before that something that seems so benign and can do this incredible damage.”

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