Track and field legend and coach, Olympian Dennis Johnson, died on Thursday night after a month-long battle with Covid-19.

He was 81.

Considered the architect of the modern Jamaica track programme, Johnson started a sports program at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) now the University of Technology in 1971. It was a programme that yielded Anthony Davis, Jamaica’s first home-grown Olympic athlete.

As head coach at CAST, Johnson, in the 1980s created the famous Bolts of Lightning 4x100m relay team, the first club side to break 40 seconds for the sprint relay. He also led CAST to a more than decade-long dominance of the Intercollegiate Championships.

It was Johnson in partnership with UTech and Stephen Francis that saw the world-famous MVP Track Club having its base on the college campus and producing a number of world-beating athletes like Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Melaine Walker, Michael Frater, Shelly-Ann Frater-Pryce and Elaine Thompson.

Johnson, who was also Sports Director at Utech, was also an outstanding athlete. While attending San Jose State University in the United States, equalled the 100-yard world record of 9.3 seconds three times over a six-week span from March 11- May 5 that year.

Unfortunately, injury prevented him from competing for an NCAA title that year.

He was a member of Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team that finished fourth at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Fifth in the 110-yards at the British Empire Games of 1962, he was forced to withdraw from the 220 yards with a groin injury.

Johnson, who was affectionately called ‘DJ’ was inducted into the San Jose State Spartans Hall of Fame. In 2001, the same year he was awarded the Order of Distinction (OD) by the government of Jamaica. He was awarded the UTech Chancellor’s medal in 2009 and in 2012, UTech renamed its athletes’ residence, previously known as the Track House, in Johnson's honour.

With recent spikes in the number of Covid-19 cases in Bermuda, a final decision on the fate of the 2021 Carifta Games will be announced in May.

The Jamaica Track and Field Coaches Association (JATAFCA) believes the absence of track and field competitions because of the Covid-19 pandemic is proving to be destructive.

In light of this claim, they have called upon the relevant authorities to immediately authorize the resumption of track and field that will allow the country to maintain its standing in global athletics.

The last track meet was held on March 20, 2021, and with the ISSA Boys and Girls Championships and the World Relays in Poland looming, Jamaica’s athletes will be at a significant disadvantage.

“The current delay is destructive. The psychological and mental damage to our athletes and coaches is almost irreparable. As a nation, we cannot afford a cancellation of ISSA Champs 2021, which the delay will cause. Not only is the competition a major pillar for our world-renowned track and field prowess, it provides the platform for student-athletes to earn athletics scholarships to overseas colleges and universities.”

JATAFCA said that the available data indicates that Jamaica’s student-athletes earn scholarships valued at over J$2 billion. This is a stark contrast to the J$85.791 million allocated in the 2019-20 Estimates of Expenditures for the Ministry of Sports for Athlete’s insurance. No other line item was identified as applicable.

“We, therefore, call upon the authorities to recognize the importance of track and field to the overall national development, the psyche and contribution to the young people of our nation. We implore them to partner with the JAAA, ISSA and their sponsors, to stage these competitions safely and successfully,” they said.

The inactivity, JATAFCA said, is due to the absence of approval by the authorities for the additional competitions organized and managed by the governing body the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA).

“We are made to understand that the authorities are concerned about the spike in COVID-19 cases and the stress on the public health system,” the JATAFCA said in a statement Thursday.

“Let it be clear that we too are equally concerned. We are, however, of the opinion that concern for public health is not diametrically opposed to the staging of COVID-19 safe track and field competitions. It is all about striking a balance, minimize the fallouts, and pursue the things we are best at.”

The coaches’ association said that over a three-week period from February 27 to March 20th, the JAAA staged 20 competitions that saw 39 junior athletes - 27 boys and 12 girls - making the very rigorous qualifying standards for the World Under-20 Championships in Nairobi Kenya.

In addition, there was at least one world-leading performance from a senior athlete.

“With some 1500 juniors and close to 300 senior athletes competing in the Qualification Trial Series (QTS), there was no reported positive COVID-19 case(s) among athletes, officials or athlete support personnel,” the coaches said.

“The JAAA executed well and established a blueprint that several countries across the NACAC region, including USA and Canada, have now adopted.

 “We also make the call for authorities to provide clear and immediate responses, within 24 hours, to the applications for permits now in their possession. Further delay would be tantamount to assisting our global competitors in making light of our efforts when we meet on the track or in the field later this year.

“As an association, we will continue to play our part in encouraging our members to practice all the COVID-19 protocols for mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene. They know we hold them to a high standard of compliance, a similar standard that has resulted in us being ranked third in World Athletics.”

Veteran Jamaican racehorse trainer Wayne DaCosta, who was hospitalized in February, has died.

 West Indies and Jamaica star batsman, Chris Gayle, has admitted to some amount of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and would not want to take the medication if given a choice.

With the disease having a devastating impact on normal life over the last year, countries around the globe have already launched various campaigns to stop the spread of COVID-19 in a bid to halt its devastating impact on those most vulnerable to its effects. 

According to research, the majority of the vaccines have efficacy rates between 80 and 100 percent when it comes to preventing serious illness and deaths for those who contract the virus.  Despite the evidence of clinical trials, however, some have questioned the safety of the vaccines.  Last week, Jamaican World Champion Yohan Blake stated that he would rather not compete at the Olympics than take the vaccine.

“If I don’t have to take it, I wouldn’t want to take it. I wouldn’t want to take any vaccine at all, to be honest, because I am naturally living fine. So, I don’t want anything being injected inside of me,” Gayle told the Antigua Radio program Good Morning Jojo Radio Show.

So far, no sport has mandated that athletes looking to compete at any event be vaccinated.  Gayle, however, believes that in the future it could be a requirement for those wishing to compete.

“Down the road, there is a possibility they are going to slow you down from your earnings and say if you don’t take it you can’t do this or you can’t do that and you can’t earn. So, it’s a situation where they might hold you ransom at some stage, but for me, if I don’t have to take it, I don’t want to,” he added.

“I am sure that at some stage they are going to hold everybody ransom by saying you can’t travel, you can’t play in a particular tournament or you can’t fly on a particular airline, but I am not up for it. I’ve been tested maybe over 60 times, 70 times since I’ve been flying and playing and being in a bubble and knock wood because I haven’t caught the Covid.”

Texas A&M’s Charokee Young will miss out on the SEC Championships that began on Thursday because she has been exposed to someone infected by Covid-19.

Only 13 new positive cases of COVID-19 were detected by MLB in its initial round of COVID-19 testing ahead of full-squad spring training, the league announced on Friday. 

The new cases represent 0.3 per cent of the 4,336 intake tests as players and staff reported to team facilities in preparation for spring training games.

Nine of the 13 positive tests were produced by players, while four came from staff members. The 13 positives were spread among 11 teams.

MLB also announced that once players have cleared intake testing they will continue to be tested regularly, and 2,298 additional monitoring tests have been processed without any new positives. 

Pitchers and catchers for all teams had already reported to team facilities in Arizona or Florida. Most clubs plan to start full-squad workouts on Monday, with the first spring training games scheduled for Sunday, February 28.

The 2021 MLB regular season will begin April 1 under a number of coronavirus safety and testing guidelines.

A significant reduction in the number of athletes that will be allowed to compete is among major changes set to be introduced at the 2021 GraceKennedy/ISSA Boys and Girls Championships scheduled for March 23 to 27, 2021.

Alternative dates of May 4-8 have also been set for the 110-year-old championships, should there be Covid-19-related spikes during the period. The 2020 championships were cancelled because of the pandemic.

Among major changes announced by the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association that are coming for the championships is that because of the restrictions, fewer than 1000 athletes will be able to participate. This is down from the more than 2400 athletes that are usually on show.

What this means is that for events like the sprints (100,200 and 400) only 32 athletes will be allowed to enter and will be comprised of the top-two regional athletes and the next best 24.

Meanwhile, only 24 will be eligible to compete in the hurdles and 800m events. The 1500m will only have 16.

However, the decathlon and heptathlon events will have the usual number of entries but only the top 12 from the field events will be allowed.

 

The Covid-19 virus continues to sweep through the Reggae Boyz camp in Saudi Arabia as the the Jamaica Football Federation is reporting that a member of the administrative staff has tested positive for the virus.

Two members of the Jamaica’s football delegation currently in Saudi Arabia have tested positive for Covid-19 following PCR tests administered on Thursday. This includes one player and a member of the technical staff.

Two other players are under investigation.

All four, who had been in quarantine for 48 hours with the full group, have now been isolated and the protocols, set by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF), are expected to be put into effect. 

The protocols dictate that all confirmed cases - either symptomatic or a-symptomatic - will be isolated in the same hotel on a different wing or section away from the bulk of the rest of the team. Based on medical advice, possible isolation in a different hotel or medical facility is not ruled out.

If a patient is asymptomatic then he or she will be constantly assessed by the JFF Head Doctor and the patient will be allowed to travel after a negative PCR test or based on a medical assessment and local authority health protocol.

If the patient shows symptoms of Covid-19 and requires further medical care he or she will be transferred to a designated hospital. Any confirmed case has to be retested after three days of the disappearance of the last symptom to assess his or eligibility for travel.

The Jamaican delegation is now in Saudi Arabia preparing to play two International Friendlies against the host on November 14 and 17.

Cricket West Indies CEO Johnny Grave said he is especially disappointed with the West Indies who breached New Zealand’s strict Covid-19 protocols earlier this week, is that they arguably are the most experienced dealing with being in isolation since the return of competitive cricket.

Grave also hinted at the possibility of individual sanctions facing as many as four or five players who are alleged to have been involved and said there were plans to interview all the players and personnel who would have information salient to an investigation into the matter.

In a statement Tuesday night, CWI said it had launched an investigation to the reports that several players had breached protocols and as a result had been banned from training for the final two days of isolation.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health reported that members of the team were confirmed to have repeatedly broken isolation rules. Many of the incidents were captured on close circuit television and have been reported by staff at the facility where the players are being housed.

New Zealand cricket said the incidents included some players compromising bubble integrity by sharing food, and socializing in hallways. However, there is no evidence that any members of the touring party left the facility, or that any unauthorized persons accessed it.

An embarrassed Grave speaking to media on a Zoom call expressed his disappointment at the situation while supporting the sanctions imposed on the players.

“I think my disappointment is mainly the fact that our players are probably the most experienced players in the world in dealing with these strict quarantine measures. I am not, for any second, saying that they’re easy and living in them day in and day out is obviously a massive challenge. It’s still not natural for people to always wear a mask and always do things we have been trained to do for so many years, living our lives in the way we have before Covid,’ he said.

“But these players, the majority of them have been in a seven-week quarantine isolation bubble for the duration of the England men’s tour that we held in June and July. They all pretty much went to Trinidad and Tobago, which had a very similar situation to New Zealand with its borders fully shut with the government dispensation to allow us to host the Caribbean Premier League, and they have been within that facility in Christchurch for virtually the whole quarantine period. So its hugely disappointing that players who knew what the protocols were have clearly broken them by mixing together.”

He said their actions have put the tour and the New Zealand population at risk.

Cricket West Indies have launched an international investigation into the circumstances under which members of the Windies touring party breached strict COVID-19 protocols within the team’s Managed Isolation Facility in Christchurch.

The breach has resulted in the team members being unable to train for their final days of isolation prior to their continued preparations for the upcoming T20 series that begin on November 27.

According to reports from New Zealand, NZ Cricket said it found out on Tuesday that some members of the West Indies team had "contravened protocols" within the managed isolation facility in Christchurch.

"These incidents included some players compromising bubble integrity by sharing food, and socializing in hallways,” New Zealand Cricket said.

However, there is no evidence that any members of the touring party left the facility, or that any unauthorized persons accessed it, reports said.

CWI said the New Zealand Ministry of Health advised them that all members of the West Indies touring party will now be unable to train for the remainder of the quarantine period and will have to complete their quarantine within the Managed Isolation Facility only.

“CWI is in full support of the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s position,” CWI said in a statement.

“From the information we have received so far, we have been told that the incidents in question included some players compromising the bubble integrity by mixing between two separate West Indies bubbles into which the touring party had been split.”

Ahead of the tour to New Zealand, the West Indies touring party all returned two negative COVID-19 tests before leaving the Caribbean, and underwent two further tests since they have been in New Zealand. All results were negative.

The players underwent their final scheduled tests yesterday and, results permitting, are scheduled to leave the Managed Isolation Facility on Friday to travel to Queenstown ahead of two warm-up matches against New Zealand “A”.

Two international friendlies that had been scheduled for Jamaica in the United States next month, have been cancelled because of the rise in the number of Covid-19 infections.

A difficult battle with the coronavirus has left former Concacaf boss Jack Warner in a repentant mood, insisting he would not wish the affliction on his worst enemy.

The 77-year- old former football administration turned politician, contracted the virus two weeks ago, and has been in the hospital since.  Warner is, however, reportedly in good spirits at the Couva hospital and took the time out to thank all who have wished him well for their continued support.

At one point rumous had surfaced that the politician was gravely ill and had even succumbed to the virus.

“The outpouring of love and concern by people from all walks of life really caught me by surprise and for that, I wish to say a special thanks for the caring of which I am still the recipient,” Warner said in a recent post.

“One friend text me to say “any energy you needlessly expend is directing that energy away from your healing” so I spend my days praying, seeking God’s forgiveness to those I may have wronged and living with the hope that very soon this COVID-19 will pass not only for me but for the many who continue to suffer locally and abroad.”

Warner also warned citizens to continue to be vigilant and follow the guidelines of the government.  The former member of parliament still faces extradition to the United States, where he is expected to face corruption charges related to his time in football.  

In dark and uncertain times wrought by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the success of the NBA bubble has served the purpose of lodestar, as the world fumbles its way to a vague new normal.

With frequent testing and no cases recorded, it certainly seems the NBA is pulling off the Florida bubble experiment, so far.  Like so many successes, however, we know it comes at great cost.  In this case, I fear the ones picking up the tab will be the league’s stars, with no less than their mental health being the price to pay.

 For the most part, the athletes are showing exemplary discipline by sticking to the strict protocols of the biosecure experiment, but at what cost?

Generally, the world is captivated by the way COVID-19 is pushing us creatively. In this case, the Disney World bubble has allowed NBA fans to enjoy energetic, competitive in-demand games.  Basketball lovers are happy to ignore ‘strange’ aspects of the stadium for an experience closer to normal.

 I recently read an article by Men’s Journal titled, ‘The NBA’s COVID-Free Return Is About A Lot More Than Just Basketball.’ It listed the different characteristics of a game before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No amount of virtual fans will stop me from noticing the sealed booths for announcers and stat keepers, the masks everywhere. At certain angles, the court seems to be floating in the black vacuum of space, and when players run to save a ball from the sideline, they disappear into the shadows and for a second I wonder if they’ve fallen into some abyss.”

However, the article went on to state, “But, while the game is going, I forget. I forget about all the strangeness and the world seems normal again. And I’m noticing less the more basketball I watch. The restart of the NBA is evidence that people can get used to anything.”

It's all fun and games to enjoy the very best aspects of the sporting endeavor, but deadly serious to ignore the mental health impact of COVID-19 on athletes.

 The COVID-19 mental health implications are an all too real effect of the pandemic.  According to the World Health Organization, it greatly increases the stress level of the population at large and has other psychological effects.

“In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol, and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.”

The La Clippers' Paul George experienced just such anxiety and depression facing the isolation of the NBA bubble. Though the player was a staunch advocate for creating a safe playing environment, he admitted, “but at the same time, it's rough.”

 Authenticating George’s mental state problems was the team’s coach, Doc Rivers. He opined, “This is not a normal environment, OK? It just isn't.”

It was only through conversations with the team's psychiatrist, coach, teammates, and close family members that his spirit was lifted.

 Sure, reuniting with family members in the bubble gives players some mental stability but not all players have families or even want them in an isolated environment.

 Such considerations are perfectly understandable, managing a family situation within the bubble can be a tricky affair.  For children, there is no place like home, what happens when they start getting bored? How do they cope with the situation mentally?

Families began arriving in the Orlando area last week so they could quarantine before being permitted to the bubble. Once inside, they will be subjected to the same daily coronavirus testing and mandatory wearing of masks as players and staff, which can be another stressful situation in and of itself.

 

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

 

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