Sport enters 2022 fighting the good fight despite COVIDSaturday, January 01, 2022
Uplifting news Friday — the final day of 2021 — was that the biggest sporting event of the year, the Tokyo Olympics, appears to have had no impact on the spread of the novel coronavirus in Japan.
Readers will recall the widespread fear in Japan and elsewhere in mid-year that hosting thousands of athletes, support staff, officials, journalists, and others would result in a surge of the virus there.
We are told that a study suggests nothing of the sort happened, and that mobilisation by organisers and the Japanese authorities to counter the virus, using all available safety protocols, worked.
It's further proof that when human beings work together to achieve a shared aim, the sky is the limit.
Top of the heap though it was, the Olympics wasn't the only sporting event to achieve success in 2021, despite the threat of COVID-19. That was also true of major continental football tournaments such as the UEFA European Championship, COPA America, the Concacaf Gold Cup, and Fifa World Cup qualifiers as well as major tennis tournaments, cricket tours and the T20 Cricket World Cup, et al.
Also, professional sport in the developed world — driven by television revenues — thrived.
As vaccination numbers grew, many countries chose to open stadia to spectators. Indeed, in late December, even as COVID numbers surged because of the highly infectious Omicron variant forcing some games to be postponed, venues for professional football in Britain and sections of wider Europe remained packed with spectators.
Sadly, vaccine hesitancy in Jamaica has meant that the authorities have been mostly reluctant to allow people — even those who have been vaccinated — at sporting events.
The big exception has been Caymanas Park, home of the revenue-earning horse racing industry, where limited numbers of fans — be they vaccinated or not — are allowed entry on race days.
Readers will also recall that in November, the Government relented to allow a limited number of spectators to provide a vital '12th man' for the Reggae Boyz in the National Stadium in Kingston, for their 1-1 draw with the United States in a World Cup qualifier.
Up to recently, expectation was that the national team would also have vaccinated fans providing home support in upcoming home games as the Reggae Boyz battle to keep alive their hopes of reaching the Fifa World Cup in Qatar later this year.
Alas, the onrushing Omicron variant may have put paid to that. We note word from Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie that requests by the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) and the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) for spectators to be allowed to watch events in early to mid-January have been turned down.
The West Indies are set to play three One-Day Internationals and a T20 starting January 8 against Ireland at Sabina Park, while ISSA is about to enter the final phase of schoolboy football following the Christmas break.
Mr McKenzie tells us that the Government will be considering other “submissions” seeking approval for vaccinated spectators to attend events. These have come from the Jamaica Football Federation (World Cup qualifiers) and also the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (track and field). But given the Government's response to the JCA and ISSA, we are not hopeful.
Through it all, entrance at Caymanas Park remains open. More evidence as sport enters 2022 in fighting mood, that money does indeed make the horses run.