Devaro Bolton

Wed, 14 Apr 2021

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Another March has ended, and again Jamaica, and the athletics-loving world has been denied the spectacle that was customary for this time of year – the ISSA Boys and Girls Championships. Conversations (read: debates) that would have dominated classrooms and boardrooms alike in the few weeks before and after “Champs” remain postponed because of the seemingly never-ending global pandemic. 

Unlike last year’s staging which was abandoned altogether because of COVID-19, administrators are (for now at least) still hoping that the five-day festival can take place in 2021. With the recent surge in cases in Jamaica, however, when that would be and how that would unfold remains a mystery. And so we wait.

We wait to wax poetic about the “next Usain Bolt/Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce”; we wait to be amazed by performances that seem unbelievable for that age group; we wait to revel in the euphoria of our favoured school capturing the title, and the year’s worth of bragging rights that goes along with it. Most importantly for local track fans, we wait to see what a COVID-affected Champs looks like. 

But is our desire for the return of Champs overshadowing the reality of the situation being faced? Given the fact that under the current circumstances there is no way to guarantee the safety of everyone involved, isn’t it worth considering another postponement? 

Admittedly, the organizers have given some thought to measures that would lessen the risk of a spread, as new qualifying criteria were introduced before the start of the season to reduce participants. Less than 1,000 students are expected to put their talents on show which is a lot fewer than the 2,000+ who usually converge on the National Stadium. But is that enough? Whether they exist or not, an extensive list of measures has not been reported thus far, and as cases continue to rise, so does the need to protect our student athletes.

What provisions will there be to ensure that they are safe, and who bears that responsibility? Is it ISSA? The respective school administration? The coaching staff? 

Will they be tested regularly throughout the event? Though not impossible, between the cost of the test ($15,000+ per) and the capacity to test that much that often it does seem improbable. And if they aren’t tested, will the slightest inkling of symptoms result in an athlete being pulled from competing? What then does that mean for his/her teammates? Is there going to be a bubble with restrictions on movement, and what would the consequences be for a breach of rules? Points deduction, maybe?

And what about the other parties involved? The athletes are naturally the focus, but there are also the officials, media, sponsors, the technical team, etc. that play a role throughout the championship. Their movements are even more difficult to control. 

Then there is the variable of the spectators. How many patrons would be allowed to enter the National Stadium given it’s 35,000 capacity? Without a doubt, the atmosphere of a “Champs Saturday” would not be the same with limited numbers in attendance.  

Is it fair to allow our desire for the return of Champs (in it’s likely diluted format) to potentially compromise the productivity and health of so many? As questions continue to emerge, all contemplations lead to the same conclusion – it might not be worth the risk.

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