The impact of the deadly virus COVID-19 has been felt dramatically around the world. It has reached a stage where we are potentially looking at one of the most poignant moments in our entire history, with thousands of persons dying worldwide due to the contraction of this very dangerous infection. However, Jamaica’s response to the pandemic has been complementary and both the Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health Christopher Tufton have received numerous plaudits in the way they have responded to ensure that the lives of the Jamaican people are protected. Though, with such proactive measures comes the inevitable reduction in normal life. Particularly, this initiative by the Government of Jamaica has left a significant and negative impact on the sporting industry in the island, especially where Track & Field is concerned.
One of the major consequences of the measures put in place by the government was the cancellation of the 2020 ISSA/Boys and Girls Athletic Championships.
This, of course, was received with mixed reviews among the Jamaican populous. In what was seen as a move out of necessity by the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA), many coaches felt contrary and voiced their opinion on the issue, claiming that it would have been a better decision to postpone the event rather than cancel it all together. However, principal of Kingston College, who are the defending champions of the Boys Championships, Dave Myrie, expressed his disappointment with the decision but maintained that it was the right thing to do, highlighting some consequences that would have arisen if the event were to have taken place as planned.
In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner earlier this month, Myrie also stated “We understand, as the overriding thing is the health and well-being of everybody and that has to take precedence over everything else. So, in spite of the disappointment, I have no problem with the decision because you don’t want to have the event and have mass contamination or persons being infected,”
Athletes would have been looking forward to securing scholarships to attend colleges overseas, scholarships which are normally secured through “Champs” as well as Penn Relays, another event that was cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19.
As opposed to Myrie’s understanding, President of the Jamaica Track & Field Coaches Association (JTFCA) David Riley, pleaded with ISSA to postpone the event rather than cancel it.
In speaking with the Jamaica Observer, Riley stated “The coaches met and discussed the decision by ISSA and made some suggestions for the meet to be postponed rather than cancelled, ”
“A letter was drafted and sent to the ISSA president detailing the proposal. We requested a meeting to have some more discussions so that the interest and welfare of the student athletes can be maintained,” he added.
Jamaican athletes normally seek to go overseas to pursue a college education because it would give them a better chance of furthering their career in Track & Field, as they would be exposed to world class coaching and training facilities. Recently we’ve had athletes such as Janeek Brown, Nathon Allen, Jhevaughn Matherson and Akeem Bloomfield make that step to further their career.
The ISSA Boys and Girls Championships would give these athletes exposure at the highest level, especially given the fact that coaches, media personnel and representatives from major sports apparel companies flock to the island just for the championships. The opportunity to get scholarships to attend these universities means that their tuition would be significantly reduced given that international students abroad have to pay more than local students. Therefore, it is understandable the frustration that comes along with the cancellation of this year’s championship event.
Not only has the virus canceled the championships, but in making sure it’s spread is narrowed and contained to a level where the nation’s health care system can comfortably deal with the effects, the Prime Minister has insisted that everyone stay at home and practice social distancing. He emphasized the seriousness of the situation by banning social gatherings of more than 20 people. As of March 13, 2020, all schools were closed for a period of 14 days, and also, workers of non-essential business were told to stay home and work. The impact that this partial shutdown of our nation has had on sports such as track and field has been enormous. This refrain from social interaction means that athletes cannot even train while the nation combats the spread of the COVID-19, impacting their fitness and mentality the longer this stage of quarantine continues.
The longer this continued stage of non-activity lasts, the more detrimental the impact will have on our young athletes, who may not even get to participate in any competitions until 2021 and that does not include students who were in their final year of participation.
In a year that was also to feature one of the most anticipated Track & Field events, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, which has been postponed until 2021, the spread of the COVID-19 virus does come at one of the worst possible moments. Locally, there will be disappointment among athletes and fans, who will be without any form of entertainment from the track. However, it must be understood that measures have to be put in place to ensure the sustainability of life and a reduction in the potential damage that this pandemic can cause.