NEWS

Medical experts dissect issue of safe pathways to start of schoolbooy football season

Sunday, June 28, 2020

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It will not be easy returning to schoolboys' football once the 2020-21 season gets underway later this year with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the world, say medical experts based here in Jamaica.

At least one medical expert, Jamaica Footall Federation (JFF) team doctor Derrick McDowell is guardedly optimistic that the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup competitions can go ahead.

At a virtual meeting held on the Zoom platform last week, hosted by the JFF and the Inter-Secodary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), medical and public health experts shared their opinions on what it would take for the season to go ahead safely.

Other members of the panel discussion were Dr Guyan Arscot, chairman of the JFF Medical Committee, and infectious disease specialist, the University Hospital of the West Indies' Professor Brendan Baine.

Arscot said despite some attempts at returning to normality in schools with virtual learning and the JFF's discussions on some national teams returning to phased training, described schoolboy football as “a different kettle of fish”.

“I think the challenges that we face are greater,” noted Arscott.

ISSA, organisers of sports at the high school level in Jamaica, is expected to give an indictaion, possibly by later this week, following extensive consultation among stakeholders what their decisions will be.

Earlier this year, ISSA boss Keith Wellington had set late June as a possible juncture to come to a decision and had said then that if the season was to go ahead, it would not be before October, a month later than normal.

Wellington had warned that school teams should not start any preparation before the end of June and were to await a signal from the governing body.

Arscot said at the recent discussion was “most important because we are approaching the cross roads of return to physical activity particularly in our schools”.

“One of the good things about today's gathering is that, generally speaking, stakeholders in sports, both the participants and the administrators, are usually quite passionate, so I am hoping the passion will extend to how we monitor the changes because this pandemic has resulted in major changes on how we plan to coexist, now and in the immediate future,” said Arscott.

The medica professional thinks football could stretch the resources of the government. “We know that we are expecting some near normal return to school activities in September, the government has told us, and this will bring significant challenges for return to sports activities.

“Some academic activity has been possible, we know that there has been virtual learning, and to a large extent, this has been reasonably successful... it has been necessary, but not efficient. However, physical activity, and in particular competitive sports, this virtual approach is less useful so we need to discuss how are we going to plan to restart,” Arscott reasoned.

While the JFF, he said, had started talking about how they will go about their restart “regarding this return to training protocols, we have the advantage that we can phase it in, for example starting with the senior RegaeBoyz team and particularly looking at non contact training, schoolboys football I dear say is a different kettle of fish, and I think the challenges that we face are greater. We have youngsters in the 15- 19 age groups in a large number of schools right across the entire island and there are wide ranges of areas that we have to monitor, not the least among these will be the personnel- teachers, coaches, administrators etc and in particular there might be a greater need than normal for medical personnel and I think ISSA and the JFF will have to discuss the scope for medical input we have to look at transport venues etc.”

Testing, Arscot said, will be a crucial element.

“The most important parameter will be that of testing; what tests, how many tests, who to test, frequency of test, results of test, affordability of tests... I was hoping that [the government] would give an indication how much money the Ministry of Sport is going to to put in to help restart the sporting activity, but that may come later because I expect that there will be significant funding needs,” he said.

Then there will be the issue is policing the teenagers.

“The fundamental parameters of hygiene mask and distance are established, but will not be easy to monitor and practice when it comes to return to schoolboy football, training and competition... and the cost of implementing these.

“We need to bear in mind that whereas our other students in academia, if for example a student who returns in September is tested positive, it is likely that reopening can continue with some effort and isolation of that students and continuing with virtual learning etc,” noted Arscott.

Baine said tough decisions will have to be made and timing will be crucial.

“If we wait, on the one hand, we will lose the opportunity. On the other hand, if we wait as information continues to accumulate locally and abroad, we will be more certain as we make our decisions.

“Looking at it from the other angle, we will avoid costly mistakes and blame; one error of judgement will be enough for persons to come own on our heads,” said Baine.

Given the recent history where high school football players have been hurt or have died on the field, Baine said screening would be very important.

“We have had some very tragic situations where our youngster were not checked medically, those with asthma we need to know who is on our teams, in the 15 -19 age group they are still minors,” Baine noted.

McDowell, meantime, cautioned that things were “still fluid [and] nothing is etched in stone or concrete”.

“Things could change come September...these kinds of discussions are necessary to ensure all are on the same page from the same book. There is community spread, but at low level, with the country opening up there are higher risks [of the spread of the virus],” shared McDowell..

The Jamaica College team doctor said “we have to condition our minds to living with the coronavirus”

“COVID is not going to go away, it's [now] life with COVID, its is how we are going to live our lives with COVID. The competition is possible [to go ahead], but requires this kind of discussion as to how to get things done prior to the competition, during the competition and after the competition, there are new and different strategies which I think we are capable of using,” said the senior team doctor of the Reggae Boyz.