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The threat of lightning and the referee's whistle

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Anyone who has ever seen a lush, green patch of plant life turn roasted brown a day or two after a lightning strike readily appreciates the danger posed by that weather event.

And, all too often, this newspaper and other media outlets are called on to report on lightning deaths.

So, then, everyone knows that the recent lightning strike which felled players during a schoolboy football game between Jamaica College and Wolmer's Boys' School at Stadium East field could easily have been a major tragedy.

Our understanding upto this point is that, although two players had to be hospitalised, both are set to make a full recovery — at least physically.

In the aftermath, we note that at least two other games were stopped by match officials due to lightning.

Lightning's danger is well established in Jamaica and the wider world, though it appears that in sport protocols governing response varies from place to place.

We are told that in Jamaica sports officials are advised to adhere to what is called the “30-30 rule”. Under that system, officials should count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. If the count is less than 30 seconds, lightning is a threat, and everyone should take shelter.

Often, lightning is accompanied by heavy storm clouds.

However, as accustomed outdoors people can testify, severe lightning strikes can also occur without warning.

Those who were at Kensington Park in east Kingston in early October 2003 recall with awe and horror lightning striking cricketers from Trinidad and Tobago and the Windward Islands during a Red Stripe Bowl limited overs game. It happened in early afternoon sunshine, without any warning.

West Indies fast bowler Mr Mervyn Dillon — the tallest man on the field — and Windwards fast bowler Mr Fernix Thomas were hospitalised overnight.

Regarding the recent event at Stadium East, an extremely sobering thought is that a considerable number of spectators were sitting in an open stand made of metal. As we understand it, metal is a very efficient conductor of electricity — which, of course, is what lightning is.

Clearly, in the case of the current schoolboy football season, match referees will be extra cautious, having been warned.

That's as it should be.

Since September, October and November — which constitute the bulk of Jamaica's schoolboy football season — also coincide with the height of the usually active period of inclement weather, it seems likely there will be more stoppages/postponements because of perceived danger.

As the situation now stands, the rules allow for lightning-affected games to be restarted on another date to be agreed from the point of the referee's final whistle.

We know that the schoolboy football schedule is tight although efforts have been made to provide more time for rescheduling.

Would it make sense, we wonder, for special rules to be implemented allowing weather-interrupted schoolboy football games to be decided there and then, based on the score at the point of interruption — perhaps after a minimum 45 minutes.

Maybe there are good football reasons such a thing is not feasible, but from this distance we think it would make life much simpler for organisers and schools.