JFF declares COVID-19-hit season 'null and void'

Sport

JFF declares COVID-19-hit season 'null and void'

...Some stakeholders think decision was hasty, but respect decision by ruling body

BY SANJAY MYERS
Senior staff reporter
myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 16, 2020

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JAMAICA Football Federation (JFF) President Michael Ricketts says the decision to annul the club season was guided by the obligation to protect the well-being of stakeholders amidst the threat of the novel coronavirus.

“The 2019-20 football season will be cancelled. This is for all levels of competition, nationally and [within] the parishes,” Ricketts said while reading from a prepared statement during a virtual press conference hosted by the JFF yesterday.

“The board [of directors] is strongly of the view that the Jamaica Football Federation should prioritise health and wellness of all its stakeholders — and those would include sponsors, media, players, coaches, referees, administrators, medical staff, [and] grounds personnel — over all other considerations,” he noted.

However, even as Ricketts stated the JFF's decision there was evidence that the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA) was calling on guidance from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ministry of Sport and the JFF with clear indication it was committed to completing the top-flight Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) campaign.

In a letter dated May 12, which was yesterday circulated to the media, PLCA Chairman Michael “Mike” Henry stated that it might be possible to resume the RSPL in July, with the proposal to play games at the National Stadium without spectators.

However, yesterday, Henry reportedly said the PLCA will “abide” by the JFF's decision.

Red Stripe, the premier league's headline sponsor, also chimed in, saying it stands with all parties in adhering to the Government's protocols.

“Red Stripe supports the decisions of the PLCA, JFF, and other local bodies that have taken measures to comply with government guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19. Any decisions concerning the way forward will be made in conjunction with the PLCA and JFF,” was the statement from Nomonde Donsa, the company's head of marketing.

There remains the view, in some quarters, that the JFF's decision was hasty given recent, tentative steps taken in other sectors to return to some level of normality.

Dwayne Dillon, general secretary of the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA), pointed out that the Jamaica Government has been gingerly scaling down lockdown restrictions, indicating its intent to fully reopen the economy over the coming weeks.

“We understand the health concern, but we think the decision could have been delayed because we have seen where things are transitioning into a mode of opening up. We were still at that 'wait-and-see' point,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

KSAFA, the country's most powerful confederation, runs super and major league competitions for senior teams as well as several age-group tournaments.

“We're disappointed, but this is the governing body, so we won't create discord, because at the end of the day we are one football family,” Dillon added.

However, Ricketts emphasised that “extensive discussions and consultations” had been held with the Minister of Sport Olivia Grange, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and the JFF's competitions and regulations and medical committees.

“The 2019-20 season is declared null and void. No champion will be declared for any competition and no team will be relegated, hence no team will be promoted. The 2020-21 season is tentatively set to start in September 2020,” the JFF boss explained, with reference to the impact on the RSPL and the lower-tier competitions.

The annulment effectively means that when the new season begins, tournament organisers should determine participating teams based on what transpired at the completion of the 2018-19 campaign.

Football competitions, including the RSPL, were forced to postpone action in March, after the country recorded its first handful of confirmed novel coronavirus cases.

After 29 RSPL matches, Waterhouse FC, with 54 points, were leading the league, followed by Mount Pleasant Academy (53) and title-holders Portmore United (46). Humble Lion FC (46), Tivoli Gardens FC (43), and Dunbeholden FC (43) occupied the remaining top-six play-off spots.

While play-off matchups, then semi-finals and a final would determine the winner, the two lowest-placed teams were set to be demoted. The University of the West Indies FC and promoted Vere United, both on 18 points, were in those relegation positions.

In the Bundesliga, Germany's top-flight club football league, competition is scheduled to resume today. Stadia will be completely empty for the rest of the season, although there will still be home and away teams with no neutral venues.

Every Bundesliga team has been in quarantine, only going from a hotel to their training ground for the week leading up to these games, and players will be regularly tested for the coronavirus.

In recent days, especially with the traditional window for Jamaica's football season coming to a close, there has been widespread speculation that the outbreak of the virus — which causes the COVID-19 disease — would force the curtailment of the various football competitions.

In the statement, Ricketts argued that the JFF had been backed into a corner.

Citing Government's decision to order schools physically closed, he said the “debilitating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic” has caused “disruptions of monumental proportions never before experienced” in Jamaica.

He also noted the move by regional ruling body Concacaf “to postpone or cancel all its competitions up to July 2020”, and said the international forecast provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) was not encouraging.

He added that the vast majority of JFF affiliates host games at “open venues”, making it “impractical” to implement a no-spectator rule.

Ricketts reasoned that tournament organisers have neither the resources nor access to infrastructure which would allow them to enforce santisation management and testing protocols.

“At a minimum, players [and] coaches would need to be administered COVID-19 tests, and this would have to be done on a regular basis. And what implication would a single positive test have on a team, the opponents, and the competition?”

He said that due to “cost ramifications” the JFF directorship opted to announce the cancellation now instead of further down the road.

“Procrastination [would] have [caused] untold financial burden on some clubs,” he explained.

“We appreciate the magnitude of these decisions, but they are being made in good faith and with focus on health and wellness as priority. We are looking to the immediate future and are making the necessary preparation to face the new season in whatever form it comes,” Ricketts said.

The Jamaica football president added that the federation remains committed to guiding the senior men's team throughout the upcoming World Cup qualification, and called on stakeholders and potentional sponsors to buy into the programme.

“Importantly, at the national level, this preparation includes the participation of our senior Reggae Boyz in the final round of qualification for the 2022 Fifa World Cup. We will continue to depend on your support, advice, and presence in the process,” he said.


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