Track and field in limbo

Regional

Track and field in limbo

COVID-19 protocols could force cancellation of some sporting events in western Ja next year

BY PAUL A REID
Observer West writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 30, 2020

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GRANGE HILL, Westmoreland - Organisers of the top three track and field events in the region told the Jamaica Observer West that they are not optimistic that their meets would be able to be held with such guidelines.

In addition to the strict sanitisation rules and the separation of spectators from meet officials and athletes, the non-availability of the Montego Bay Sports Complex in St James, the meet organisers say, will also be a major hindrance for the staging of track and field events.

The three major meets that are held in western Jamaica annually are the Western Relays staged on the second Saturday in February, the County of Cornwall Athletics Association (COCAA) Western Championships for high schools that is held a week later and the Western Primary Schools Athletics Championships that is held in June.

Despite several promises from the minister of sports, the badly worn synthetic track at the Montego Bay Sports Complex has forced several meets, including the three major ones, to be held elsewhere, and without a stadium set up, it would be unlikely that track meets can be held under the new protocols suggested by the JAAA and World Athletics.

“To be honest with you, I don't see COCAA going forward with Western Champs under these conditions knowing we don't have a stadium…,” Stephen Smith, president of COCAA, told the Observer West last week.

Albert Ferguson, the chairman of the organising committee of the Western Primary Athlectic Schools Championships, echoed similar sentiments, but added that “based on the guidelines Western Primary Schools Athletic Championships can be held if we have access to the Montego Bay Sports Complex in Catherine Hall” .

Ray Harvey, meet director for Western Relays, said he was unable to respond to the Observer West as his organising committee was yet to meet and discuss whether the event would be going ahead or not.

Earlier this year, Western Relays were forced to be held at GC Foster College in St Catherine, due to the unavailability of the Montego Bay Sports Complex.

The JAAA released guidelines for the staging of local and international track meets saying “these guidelines are aimed at ensuring personal and public health for participants and should be considered by meet organisers.” It added that the guidelines are aimed at reducing COVID-19 risks as much as possible, stressing that “local or national public health and safety regulations and restrictions will take precedence over these guidelines”.

Organisers should, the JAAA said, monitor changes to national regulations and ensure compliance with local health laws, adding that the guidelines are subject to change as the science and knowledge on COVID-19 changes.

Among the other protocols that the JAAA released recently are for the separation of spectators and accredited personnel at stadiums, each using separate entry and exits; everyone in the stadium will be required to wear masks, except the athletes while warming up or competing.

The warm-up areas must be open aired with restricted access and chairs in the call rooms must be sanitised between use and the athletes are forbidden to hug after races.

Each starting block has to be sanitised after each use, the sanitisation of relay batons, athletes are to use hand sanitisers before each attempt in vertical jumps and landing mats are to be cleaned after each jump.

Mix sand in jumping pits with a disinfectant agent; throwing implements are to be cleaned after each use, while live award ceremonies are not recommended as well as thorough disinfection of venue and equipment after competition.

Smith said the protocols are going to “require a lot of money”, adding “given that we are under both the JAAA and ISSA they would maybe have to lend us a hand in the planning and execution of the meet.” “But it's not just COCAA, but the whole island, if there will not be a national champs then there will not be any need for Western Champs and we will have to wait on the ruling from the Government,” he argued.

The finals of Western Champs have been held at the STETHS Sports Complex the last two years due to the unavailability of the stadium in Montego Bay.

Smith argued that given the protocols involved, consideration might have to be given to change the format of the championships from heats and finals with two qualifying days, to timed finals.

“There are a lot of questions that would have to be asked,” he told the Observer West.

“Financially, will it be viable for one to have an event where it is been fully run with all these guidelines to be put in place? If we speak about the separation of the fans and the athletes, that's the first thing, but we don't have a stadium to accommodate the separation of the spectators from the athletes,” he argued.

Additionally he said, “Sanitisation of starting blocks between heats would cost a lot of money and looking at all the new costs involved we would have a problem hosting Western Champs as there would be new logistics to be taken care of to ensure the championships work and work to its fullest.”

Testing for athletes, as well, he noted, would be adding to the new logistics and “that is going to take a lot of work and lots of work will take a lot of money,” said Smith who is also a teacher at Grange Hill High in Westmoreland.

“It could be difficult to prevent athletes from hugging after races, we are in exam period now and even with the older students we can't keep them from touching each other,” he added.

After cancelling the 2020 staging of the Western Primary Schools Athletic Championships, Ferguson said the outlook is bleak.

“It may be a bit difficult for us as organisers of the Western Primary Schools Athletics Championships in adhering to all these guidelines, but it is workable and can be used especially for the stadium at Catherine Hall in terms of the separation and sanitisation of athletes and spectators. Plus the sanitisation of equipment continuously can be used in aerosol form for the equipment, but the requirements would call for a much larger call room/ area or an open air call room could be used, however, it will be very difficult to observe and maintain all the health protocols if we have to use any other venue, and this could force the championship into another year of no competition,” Ferguson argued.


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