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Safety must be paramount in premier league restart

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Word yesterday was that three more people had succumbed to COVID-19 in Jamaica pushing the tally since the first recorded death earlier this year to 80.

Further, there were 135 more confirmed cases pushing the recorded number to 5,723.

This continues an alarming surge in the novel coronavirus here in recent weeks.

To properly comprehend the extent of the recent surge it is useful to consider that, on September 1, there were 24 deaths from COVID-19 in Jamaica and 2,683 confirmed cases.

In other words, in Jamaica, over the last three weeks, COVID-19 deaths have more than tripled and confirmed cases more than doubled.

That's the context in which Jamaica's football authorities are tentatively planning a restart of the country's premier football competition on November 14.

Of course, it's only a plan. We are told that, under the current protocols brought on by the pandemic, a restart to organised sport hinges on the approval of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

A previous proposed start-up date for the premier league of October 15 fell through because of the surge.

Only last week, the Government was forced to scrap plans for a restart of face-to-face school early next month. We are told that for now education of the nation's children and young people will have to continue online.

In such circumstances it is difficult to see the health authorities approving a restart to organised football competitions in November.

Yet, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and its affiliates must plan. In the case of the premier league that process is helped by a Fifa COVID-19 assistance grant of US$250,000 towards the resumption of football.

This newspaper likes the proposal for games to be held at central locations rather than home venues.

Obviously, that will allow the authorities to keep a tighter handle, more especially, if and when the health authorities feel it appropriate to ease restrictions on spectators. We also expect that central locations, with adequate lighting and reasonable playing surfaces, will assist a good television product.

Mr Michael Ricketts, president of the JFF, tells us that fans won't be allowed at training sessions, which should allow easier management of safety protocols.

He says that COVID-19 testing will take place for all “players, technical staff, auxiliary staff, administrative, and executive personnel, totalling approximately 600 people”. The plan earlier this week was for testing to start on Monday (September 28).

Mr Ricketts says testing “will be repeated before the planned kick-off on November 14”.

However, it's not clear how often after the season starts testing will happen.

What's known for sure is that it's an expensive proposition, with each test priced at $5,000.

Health protocols apart, it seems to us that the football authorities must make sure that whatever happens the limited funds made available by Fifa is used as efficiently as possible.

Hopefully, too, local corporate sponsors will come on board.