Citing a tournament first, USA Cup deploys new unhealthy air quality protocol
A red flag flew high over the National Sports Center in Blaine on Saturday as Day 2 of the USA Cup weekend tournament kicked off, signaling the air quality was unhealthy for everyone, in alignment with an air quality alert issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Friday.
It was the first time the National Sports Center has dealt with air quality concerns after 35 years of hosting the tournament, NSC chief marketing communications officer and tournament parent Sara Soli said.
“I did notice when I came out to meet you. It felt a little bit thicker, maybe a little more smoky than it had earlier in the day,” she said during an interview Saturday not long before noon.
NSC has been planning for the possibility of an air quality alert in anticipation of more than a thousand teams from across the world and more than 6,000 athletes just over the weekend, Soli said.
“It was interesting. You know, as the summer progressed and we were getting closer to tournament time, that’s when we decided that we needed to create a protocol and be ready to handle this situation,” she added.
The USA Cup Air Quality Play Guidelines are color-coded to align with the state’s air quality map.
“So the flag system, right?” Soli explained. “Green means all clear. Yellow, like we’re watching. Red, now we’re on shortened time, and then black would be, we’re gonna go ahead and pause games.”
Playing time was shortened for Saturday games through the afternoon from an hour to about 50 minutes, plus two mandatory water breaks each game.
As of five hours into play, there were no respiratory issues to report from the medical center, according to NSC’s director of public health data and analytics Jayme Murphy.
“Air quality is new, you know. That’s something that we haven’t really had to encounter in the past,” he added.
“We are monitoring at all times,” he said, adding, “It helps that we’re on the ground level to see it.”
Murphy was a part of putting together the tournament’s new guidelines, based, in part, on what the State High School League and the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association have already implemented, he explained.
“I feel like sports has been thrown a bunch of curveballs here in the last three years with COVID and air quality,” Murphy said. “Obviously, we’ve gotten a good handle on heat. It’s just another thing to work with. But we have a plan, and we are also willing to be flexible with that plan.”
The weekend tournament wraps up Sunday. Monday is a reset day before another week of games kicks off on Tuesday.