Travel in the era of COVID-19Friday, April 23, 2021
Joy at the resumption of high schools' track and field competitions, which will culminate with the Inter-secondary schools' Boys' and Girls' Athletic Championships at the National Stadium next month, despite the ravages of the novel coronavirus pandemic, has been tempered somewhat by Jamaica's withdrawal from the World Athletics Relays set for May 1 and 2 in Poland.
We are told by the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) that the withdrawal flowed from circumstances related to COVID-19, including travel restrictions in numerous countries which made “routing” to Poland difficult.
According to the JAAA, such is the situation that, “It has become extremely challenging for the Jamaican team and officials to participate.”
Nonetheless, the decision came as a surprise for many people since the JAAA had announced its 39-member squad only very recently. It seems to us that a logical question is why the insurmountable nature of the challenges weren't recognised earlier.
Our reporter tells us that missing the 2021 edition of the World Relays will be a first for Jamaica. That said, we note that other countries have also indicated they will not go. Sister Caribbean nation Trinidad and Tobago announced its withdrawal over recent days and the United States track and field authorities said very early on that they would not be sending a team to Poland.
A crucial consideration for the JAAA and others who have pulled out will be the need to find ways for relay teams to run qualifying times for the Summer Olympic Games in July/August. Like the Penn Relays, which was cancelled this year because of the pandemic, the World Relays is traditionally among the leading opportunities for relay teams to qualify for the four-yearly Olympics — the premier event on the global sporting calendar.
We are surprised that the JAAA head, Mr Garth Gayle, declined to speak to the Jamaica Observer when approached. That surely would have been an opportunity to throw some useful light on the situation. We expect that in short order he, or others qualified to speak, will tell of their plans.
We notice that the Trinidad and Tobago authorities have spoken of exploring “other options” in order to have their men's 4x100 relay team qualify.
Beyond all of the above, the situation reminds us of the 'headache' inherent in making travel arrangements for sporting teams at this time.
No doubt the JAAA, in partnership with the Government and private sector, will be exploring the possibility of charter flights to get athletes to the Tokyo Olympics.
But what of the National Trials to select the Jamaica team, which is set for June? How practical will it be, for instance, to ask overseas-based athletes — at the peak of their physical conditioning — to do 14-day quarantine periods on Jamaican soil prior to the start of the National Trials?
In the absence of a relaxation of the current protocols it may make sense for the JAAA to consider making some selections based on performances so far this season, rather than at the trials.
That may be unsatisfactory, but in these times such practical solutions seem in order.
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