Jamaica’s Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) has sought consensus and some direction from high school coaches regarding the possibility of staging the popular Boys and Girls Championship next year.

The event, which is typically staged in the month of March, was cancelled this year due to the credible threat of being a coronavirus super spreader event.  Since then, ISSA has announced the suspension of all school competitions scheduled for the Christmas term.

With no creditable solutions coming to the fore as yet regarding the best possible ways to returning to the staging of high school sports, amidst the pandemic, concerns had been raised regarding the protentional of next year’s event being cancelled as well.

In a letter issued to the coaches, ISSA was quick to point out that the December term cancellations had no impact on next year’s event.  But, in light of the need to satisfy restrictive COVID-19 protocols for staging the event, the body also pointed out that creative solutions were needed in order to host the competition.

“ISSA has cancelled all ISSA competitions scheduled for the 2020 Christmas term.  This decision, however, does not have any impact on the staging of the 2021 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships,” the letter read.

“However, the national COVID-19 protocols dictate that if Champs 2021 is to be a reality, then adjustments have to be made to the general structure and scheduling of the meet.  These changes could possibly have implications for the number of athletes, classes, events and days of Champs 2021,” it continued.

“We, therefore, invite each group of regional coaches (as per Regional Meets, Western, Central, Eastern, Corporate) to meet virtually amongst themselves and discuss possible suggestions as to what the 2021 ISSA/GraceKennedy Champs may look like in the context of COVID-19.  It is expected that from the regional discussions, coaches will submit their suggestions via an appointed team leader by email.”

The coaches will have until October 2, to submit their suggestions.

President of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), Keith Wellington, is urging student-athletes to continue training for their various disciplines, in order to be in a position to capitalize on any opportunities to compete in this academic year.

The governing body for Jamaican high school sports has already cancelled all sporting activities for the remainder of 2020 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases across the island.

According to Wellington, ISSA is now using the period to assess what events, including the ones that were scheduled for this semester, could be held next year.

He pointed out that sports like table tennis and swimming are among the favourites to see competition first in 2021.

Wellington suggested that sports like basketball, football, netball and track and field might be the most difficult to stage.

Specifically speaking to the popular ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, Wellington told the Commentators podcast, “I know that a lot of people would have said athletics provides for social distancing.”

“On the field of play it does but if you think of our track and field activities, it doesn’t have to be that way, the norm is that you have persons travelling right across the island, thousands of kids from dozens of communities across the island,” he added.

“That is something that would be difficult in this time because you could have somebody from Hanover travelling to Calabar to participate in a meet…they come into contact and right away you have a spread right across.”

Speaking with Donald Oliver and Ricardo Chambers, Wellington also made it clear he did not see testing as an option, at the moment, for any sport given the financial costs associated. 

However, the man who took over the top job in June 2019, says he is committed to ensuring that student-athletes across as many sports as possible get opportunities to compete.

To athletes, he said, “all is not lost.”

“We define luck as preparedness plus opportunity. Right now, there is little opportunity, but you still have a responsibility to be prepared so that when that opportunity comes you will be lucky.”

“I would say to them (athletes) to do all that you can to prepare yourself mentally and physically to play sport. We at ISSA are serious about providing that opportunity to make your luck and we are going to do whatever we can to provide you with the opportunities in whatever format.”

 

When the pandemic shut the world down in March, it also shut down the world of sports.

All the major football leagues – the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Primera Liga; the NBA, Swimming, Super League Netball, everything was shut down for like four months.

It was the same here in Jamaica. The ISSA Boys and Girls Champs, Red Stripe Premier League, everything. If it was classified as a sport, it was done.

However, things gradually started to open back up.

The EPL and the other major European football leagues found a way to complete their respective seasons even if it came at great expense. Massive levels of testing of players and support staff, as well as technical people to facilitate the broadcast of the matches, played in empty stadia.

Players were quarantined in hotels and not allowed outside their respective bubbles in order to ensure that there was little chance that they or their teammates would become infected.

Here in Jamaica, there is talk of getting the Red Stripe Premier League going again later this year.  That should present quite a challenge for the 12 teams in the league and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), who will have to figure out how they are going to get things going while keeping the players and support staff safe.

Will they quarantine players and staff? Where will they house them? Will fans be allowed into the stadia where the teams are playing? This latter issue could be a major factor in how teams will approach the season.

In the absence of broadcast money and most likely corporate sponsorship, teams in the RSPL will depend heavily on gate receipts. However, with restrictions being placed on the number of supporters that will be allowed inside the stadia, how will teams stay afloat while still paying players and covering all the other costs associated with running a football franchise?

Perhaps, the JFF and the 12 teams will be able to fashion some semblance of a season but for schoolboy football, things are a lot more uncertain. The situation is so tenuous that not even the JFF President Michael Ricketts can say for sure whether there will be a school-boy season.

More than 40 teams contest the Manning Cup in Jamaica’s Corporate Area. Out in rural Jamaica, the magnitude of the undertaking is so much larger. More than a hundred schools are set to take part in the daCosta Cup competition.

I am not sure the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association can pull that off.

How will schools handle the players? Will they be allowed to go home once training camps begin? Will players be allowed to attend regular classes with other kids from so many different backgrounds and communities that might have asymptomatic people walking around or living in their homes?

 How will the schools protect coaches? How do schools plan to pay for sanitizers and all the other things needed to ensure that everyone remains safe during the course of the season?

On the face of it, I don’t think they can.

There are way too many schools, way too many environments to control and secure and way too many players to place in any kind of bubble that will guarantee their safety while preventing a national outbreak of the coronavirus in schools across the island.

As of today, fewer than 1000 Jamaicans have been confirmed to be carrying the COVID-19 virus. If there are any missteps, any gaps in proposed protocols, ISSA runs the risk of causing an island-wide outbreak that could see tens of thousands of Jamaicans becoming infected and possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

The disaster would be on such a scale, Jamaica’s medical facilities would be significantly overwhelmed.

The way I see it, there should be no school-boy football in Jamaica for 2020. It would be foolhardy to even attempt it.

 

 

Jamaica’s Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) has suspended all its school competitions beginning Friday, March 13.

However, ISSA has advised that matches scheduled for today (Thursday, March 12) will go ahead as planned.

Among the competitions that will be suspended at the Headley Cup and Grace Shield cricket finals, girls’ basketball and football as well as high school volleyball.

The Headley Cup and Grace Shield semi-finals are set to take place today.

On Wednesday, ISSA in conjunction with GraceKennedy, the ministries of Health and Education, took the decision to cancel the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships scheduled for the end of March.

That decision was arrived at after the Ministry of Health announced that a woman arriving from the United Kingdom has tested positive for the Coronavirus that has so far infected more than 121,000 people across the globe. More than 4000 have died from the infection.

The 2020 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 virus that has been categorized as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The cancellation comes on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement that a Jamaican woman tested positive for the virus after arriving on the island on March 4.

Stakeholders of the 110-year-old championships - the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), sponsors GraceKennedy, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health – met Wednesday to determine the fate of the championships that like many other sporting events, were being threatened by the spread of the virus that has infected more than 121,000 people globally and killing over 4000.

On Tuesday, there was an indication that the championships were under threat of being cancelled when the organisers agreed to cancel the launch of five-day event that was to be held at the National Stadium in Kingston.

“We agreed that the appropriate measure at this time would be to postpone tomorrow’s launch, and proceed with further discussions about what action should be taken in terms of the actual event,” said ISSA President, Keith Wellington, who also revealed that was also in discussion with its associated sponsors.

 Title sponsors also took a position that suggested that a cancellation was the most appropriate measure to take that would be in the best interests of all concerned.

 “The Health Ministry has announced that infection prevention and control is a priority at this time,” said GraceKennedy Group CEO, Don Wehby in a statement Tuesday.

 “We take COVID-19 very seriously and are concerned about the health and wellness of the student-athletes and all involved in the execution of Champs, as well as the implications for the 35,000 persons in attendance at the National Stadium especially during the last two days. This is a decision we will be making in the nation’s best interest.”

 

 

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