Live sports in Jamaica, as you would have noticed, is pretty non-existent. How many of us thought that the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships (Champs) would ever be cancelled? The last time Champs wasn’t held was 1944 because of World War 2 so it’s been held pretty consistently for decades. Sports has been brought to a standstill because of the COVID-19 virus, and as global cases continue to rise, the global sports industry is slowly returning to normal. In football, for example, both national teams and football clubs have been travelling to play matches. While sports fans at home appreciate the spectacle and the players appreciate their paychecks, it’s still risky business to be playing sports right now.
We don’t know how next year will pan out. As much as we would like to hope that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st 2021, there will be a reset, that’s not how life works. With that said, COVID-19 will be following us into 2021. Let’s look at some of the ways Jamaica could return to live sports.
What Options Do We Have?
Well, when the active cases are at a level the sporting organizations and the government feel is relatively safe, we can start looking at ways to enjoy our favourite sports live. As recently announced, “Champs” has been tentatively set to be held from March 22 to March 27. This may provide the clearest indication of the Government’s intention of implementing a new normal where sports is concerned.
Fill the Venue Up To Half Capacity
One thing we could do is have the outdoor venues fill only up to half of the capacity. This is what the English government, the English Football League (EFL) and the Premier League are now implementing.
Starting with last weekend’s slate of matches, Premier League teams that are located in the sections of England that are considered low risk or ‘tier 1’ have begun playing in front of home fans. The government is not looking for a full house, as a matter of fact, it’s only allowing up to 4000 spectators or half of the stadium’s capacity.
For teams in areas that are referred to as ‘tier 2’ and have a slightly worse risk, only 2000 spectators or half the capacity will be allowed. There were 2000 fans that turned up at the London Stadium to watch West Ham host Manchester United. The places deemed the highest risk or ‘tier 3’ won’t have spectators. For now, only home fans will be permitted to attend the matches in an attempt to avoid crowding in public transportation.
The major challenge for organizers locally to implement this is, how do they prevent “away” fans from getting in the stadiums, or will the clubs be able to limit the amount of people that may try to get in? Not only that, does it make financial sense to host spectators at the grounds with less than 50% capacity?
David Sharpe, the CEO of Mansfield Town, a fourth-tier team in the English Football League said that he would prefer over 50% capacity because of the cost. We could definitely have a problem like that and it’s up to the organizers and spectators to decide if it’s worth the risk. For it to be feasible in Jamaica, it may take increased private sector assistance.
Conduct Rapid Testing
One way to reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus in a sporting event is to have everyone undergo rapid testing. This includes, players/athletes, coaches, staff, etc
The rapid tests aren’t as accurate as the others but it does work. This would give local football organizers the chance to allow players to convene without the fear of infection. It’s simple, whoever tests positive for the virus, is quickly isolated. While the cost of rapid testing is relatively low, it still cuts into the margin of profit that is already slim.
When Should Jamaica Return to Live Sports?
It is too hard to tell but the signs are there that it will be soon. Talks continue over the restart of the Jamaica Premier League in January/February as well as Champs in March. For now, the formula would be: vaccination, rapid testing, mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing if we want to see any semblance of normalcy.