Organising sport in the era of COVID-19

Organising sport in the era of COVID-19

Saturday, August 08, 2020

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THE rapid spread of COVID-19 has meant there are few certainties anymore.

On a global scale there have been numerous postponements of mega sporting events, including the Olympics.

Just yesterday came news that the International Cricket Council's Women's World Cup originally scheduled for early next year is to be pushed back for 12 months. That's just one more of a number of deferrals on international cricket's overcrowded calendar.

How all these rescheduled and postponed events are to be accommodated is left to be seen.

Indeed, the growing recognition that the highly contagious virus won't go away anytime soon means we are getting to the stage where we may see some iconic global events cancelled altogether.

It's an unpalatable thought, but one the sporting world will be forced to contemplate unless some way is found to halt the novel coronavirus.

Yet, for all that, as we have repeatedly said in this space, it is not in the nature of human beings to give up.

Hence the announcement from Concacaf — representing the football-playing countries of the Caribbean, Central and North America — of qualifying schedules and arrangements for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, and other commitments.

Jamaicans are obviously most interested in the qualifying schedule for the World Cup. As is well known, the Reggae Boyz have qualified for a senior men's Fifa World Cup just once. That was back in 1998 in France.

For football watchers looking back, it is hard to believe that a succession of talented Jamaican teams since then have not made it back to men's football's highest table. That's the nature of sport.

Yet again, there is optimism that the current crop of young talent has the wherewithal to get the job done.

Consistent performances over the last year or two have ensured the Reggae Boyz are ranked in the top five of Concacaf and therefore, through to the final round of World Cup qualifiers in the second half of 2021. They are alongside Mexico, United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

Before that, 30 teams ranked below those must slug it out among themselves over two rounds of eliminator tournaments. Eventually the top three from those lower-ranked teams will join the top five in a mouth-watering eight-team, home and away tournament to decide three qualifiers for the World Cup.

A fourth Concacaf team will still have a chance in a home and away intercontinental play-off.

Given the extreme difficulties in the era of COVID-19, this newspaper believes the Concacaf executive has done well to come up with this qualifying arrangement in the limited time available before the World Cup.

We believe Concacaf President Mr Victor Montagliani is on target when he says “I think it is a format that everybody understands and one that will give everybody a real opportunity...”

From a purely Jamaican perspective, the Concacaf Gold Cup set for next year — for which the Reggae Boyz are automatic qualifiers — should provide very useful preparation.

So now to the biggest challenge of all: How to get all this done in the era of COVID-19.

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