'Hall' in the game


'Hall' in the game

Respected sports exec Michael Hall weighs pros and cons of NPL in COVID-19 reality

By Ian Burnett
Sport Editor

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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Accomplished sports administrator Michael Hall is hoping local football authorities understand the enormity of the task and the paramount importance of ensuring the health and safety of all participants as they embark on the journey of hosting the 2020-2021 National Premier League (NPL).

Hall has worked in sports management and administration for over 25 years, and was director of operations for the Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 cricket which ended in Trinidad earlier this month.

The seventh edition of Hero CPL with six franchises and a number of international cricketers from all parts of the globe was successfully staged between August and September with no positive case of COVID-19 emerging during the tournament, which had a number of logistical challenges, including housing all teams, media and match officials in a biosecure environment, as well as transporting the teams to practise and matches at the two venues of international standard.

In granting the interview, Hall - who worked with the Sports Development Foundation, was head of cricket operations at the West Indies Cricket Board, general manager at Independence Park Limited, and director of operations at Hero CPL for seven years - readily admitted that he's not totally au fait with all the proposed protocols related to the planned November 14, 2020 - June 30, 2021 National Premier League schedule.

Notwithstanding, he believes that though the event will be difficult to manage, it can be done if all parties are honest and behave in a professional manner.

“I am not saying that it can't be done. I'm just saying that I hope that people [authorities] are really drilling all the way down and considering every single possibility before saying we are going to have a league,” Hall told the Jamaica Observer.

He added: “There are many things to consider, especially given what has happened in the past few weeks [with the increased number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the island].”

His first concern would be that the protocols are unknown or poorly defined and not followed, and then there is a significant incidence of people testing positive for the virus and the attendant problems which would go along with that.

Coincidentally, at last week's press conference Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Michael Ricketts advised that the ministry of health and wellness had yet to announce its protocols for the restart of football.

And to make matters worse, Dr Nicole Dawkins-Wright, director of emergency disaster management and special services, who was a scheduled speaker at the press conference, was absent, thereby adding to the lack of clarity as regards the mandated protocols.

“I am surprised that the Government hasn't issued anything like that and the teams are already in training,” noted Hall.

He noted that the nation's health-care system was already under strain and a sporting tournament with many people involved could put additional pressure on it if things are not done properly.

“A concentrated viral spread within the football community, which could be debilitating to the health-care system could be debilitating to the sport, generally, in Jamaica because it would send a signal to the lower-tier competitions, and other sports as well.

“If the NPL is not able to successfully stage the league and keep everyone involved safe, to me it would signal the end of football competitions for the foreseeable future,” he pointed out.

Hall also said there is a great responsibility and burden on the shoulders of the JFF to get it right because there was equally a burden and responsibility on the CPL as the first tournament to be staged after the outbreak of COVID-19.

“The responsibility on the CPL was huge and, thank God, we were able to pull it off, but it took a lot of thought and careful planning and insistence on people following the guidelines,” said Hall, who was also head of operations for the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007.

He noted that his task in Trinidad and Tobago was difficult with the CPL, but that what is being proposed for the local football league will be much more difficult, as with the CPL the 200-plus people were in a biosecure bubble.

“We are talking about 600 people who are spread out all over the corporate area, all over St Catherine, Clarendon, St Ann, and who knows where else, so it is a different scenario and probably a tougher nut to crack,” he explained.

With a new-found appreciation for organising a high-profile tournament in COVID-19 reality, Hall said there were many things to think about when gathering people to take part in a competition.

“Even before you start the matches you are talking about the training and the health and safety of the players, coaches and other backroom staff. How do these guys get to their training grounds each day? What protocols have been established or demanded by the JFF, because they should present to the clubs a set of protocols that they must adhere to and each club should have somebody who they designate as a COVID-19 officer to ensure compliance.

“I think the JFF should mandate that each club must have a medical doctor as part of their full-time staff, especially in a situation like now when we are trying to play a league in the middle of what is a serious pandemic here in Jamaica. The numbers don't lie, so pretending as though the situation is not dire would be lying.

“I know the situation here in Jamaica is different. If you are a professional footballer, that alone may not be enough to feed your family, so many of these guys perhaps have other jobs. Maybe they are coming from their other work environment to the training ground. What is the situation at their work environment? What protocols are they following there? Where do they live? Is there any special consideration to be given for where they are coming from because of a spike in that community?

“Are people going to come there [matches, training] using public transport? Are people going to drive their own car? How many players have their own cars?”

Hall also wanted to know who would monitor players' compliance with whatever protocols have been established; for example, who is going to ensure that a player goes straight home after he leaves training and doesn't stop somewhere.

He said: “I appreciate that policing something like that would be - if not impossible, then next to it - and I suspect that a large part of whether this thing will work or not has a lot to do with an honest system. If you rely on that and you depend on persons to adhere to the protocols, then what has to be done is that there has to be clear consequences for not doing so and it has to be stated and communicated to all the clubs, such as a player found to be in breach of whatever stay-at-home or isolation protocol is banned for the next five matches, or whatever. Something with teeth. And perhaps some sort of financial penalty levied against the individual as well, because sometimes that is the only language that people understand; when you hit them in their pockets they tend to be a little bit more circumspect, and I suppose that will have to be the way that it goes.”

The man who also worked as CEO of the West Indies Players' Association advised clubs that they must have strong administration so that all these mandates can be monitored, in order to ensure that there is compliance and they can keep records of individuals' temperatures upon entering the venues and that the venues will have to be sterilised and cleaned regularly.

He also suggested that clubs should have somebody who understands the situation around the virus. “What's the incubation period? How long does it take before someone shows symptoms? How often should individuals be tested? Every seven days or every two weeks? I don't know.”

Hall said it would be impossible to house everybody for the entire season, but regular testing must be done.

“It will always come down to economics and finances, whether there is a pandemic or not, and doing this and keeping people safe is a tremendously expensive proposition and you can't slip up with the testing; it is not something that you can put off. You have to do the test, or unless the people doing the testing are prepared to wait for payment it is not something to trifle with; it is very serious.”

Ricketts, at the press conference, said that as an important step and in order to provide a level of assuredness during the preseason preparation of the teams, the JFF would take the unprecedented step of having all players, technical staff, auxiliary staff, administrative and executive personnel, totalling approximately 600 people, complete COVID-19 tests, commencing yesterday.

He said the process would be repeated before the November 14 start date and that each testing process would cost approximately $3,000,000.

Regarding matches, Hall suggested that the league authorities re-engag the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) for transportation services. For the CPL he said it was not a serious problem because the group was already in a biosecure bubble and so social distancing was not paramount when travelling, as opposed to this situation where the people involved don't live at the same place.

Therefore, more buses would be needed and compliance required, in terms of some kind of certification saying that the buses have been fumigated and sanitised prior to each use, with the bus driver wearing a hazmat suit.

Hall was adamant that sports authorities can establish whatever they think ought to be done, but if they are not in sync with what the Government says must happen, then it was a waste of time.

“I certainly wish the federation and the clubs every success,” Hall said. “It is important economically, it is important psychologically for the players, coaches and for the country, as there has been nothing, apart from horse racing, going on at present.

“I am assuming that it will be played behind closed doors and so a big onus is going to be on the broadcasters to make sure that the pictures are clear and people can watch and cheer for their teams, and so on and so forth. So I wish them every success and I just hope that they understand that the health and safety of everybody who is going to take part should be paramount and above all else.”

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