McIntosh calls for full-scale return of sports, but Dr Mansingh disagreesFriday, April 16, 2021
BY PAUL A REID
Concacaf executive Howard McIntosh has called for full-scale resumption of sports in Jamaica, in particular club football where he estimates that in excess of $1.5 billion is being lost.
McIntosh argued that if economies around the region and the world were concentrating on returning people to work after the almost total shutdown caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic last year, then “the focus must be returning professional athletes and elite athletes to work”.
He said there were “no difference between someone working at a bank, a BPO [business process outsourcing] and working as a professional athlete”.
Noted sports medicine doctor and dean of the Faculty of Sports Medicine at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Akshai Mansingh, said not so fast, countering that the preservation of health and lives had to be the focus of the Government.
He argued that if high-risk sports such as football could not be played in a controlled environment, such as a biosecure bubble, it would not be possible to play the sport safely.
Without herd immunity and at least 60 per cent of the population being vaccinated, Mansingh said it was highly unlikely that football, classified as high-risk with fans, would not be possible.
Both men were guests at Tuesday's virtual meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Eastern St Andrew, where they and others in the sporting industry discussed the possible restart of sport in Jamaica under the theme 'Has the delay in restarting the sports industry cost us too much'?
Noted publicist Carole Beckford was the moderator.
McIntosh argued that Jamaica was one of the few Concacaf countries where football has not restarted and billions of dollars were being lost in the process, while others were able to start while still battling the spectre of COVID-19 within their borders.
“Sports is a path to education, and in this part of the world, a path to wealth,” he said, adding that the sporting industry in Jamaica contributed “maybe between $12 to $15 billion as an annual contribution to the economy”.
The executive, whose position with Concacaf gives him oversight of some 31 countries throughout the region, said: “Football is being played in a vast number of these countries, unfortunately it is not being played in a few countries, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago being among the few.”
McIntosh pointed out that the rough estimate on football not being played is in excess of US$100m ($1.5 billion).
He said while he commended Dr Mansingh and his team for the bubble approach that has worked in cricket, “the bubble has been necessary but not feasible financially for football, and most of the football that is being played now relies on heavy testing”.
McIntosh hinted that the Jamaican Premier League might go ahead under the bubble format, only “because it is being forced, but most of the leagues now are not being played in a bubble”.
The football official — who is senior manager for One Concacaf, the development engine of the confederation — drew comparisons to the Dominican Republic, which hosted a number of Concacaf World Cup qualifying games recently.
“They have 10 times the number of [novel coronavirus] cases and five times the number of deaths to Jamaica, but they hosted the qualifiers and they are playing football daily,” McIntosh reasoned.
The withdrawal of Waterhouse FC and Portmore United from the FLOW Concacaf Caribbean Championship recently, he said, was not a good thing for the game in Jamaica, especially “in a year where we have the Gold Cup and we have World Cup qualifying”.
“...At this time you need to focus on returning people to work, so the focus must be returning professional athletes and elite athletes to work,” McIntosh said.
“I whole heartedly wish, request and demand the return to sports as quickly as possible, because COVID is here and COVID is here to stay with us for a long time and we will have to balance those lives and those livelihoods,” he added.
Mansingh, who is also a part of the medical committee of Cricket West Indies and was part of the return to live international sporting competition last year when the regional team toured England, dismissed comparisons with Jamaicans being able to play professionally in Australia in front of fans.
He said that was only possible because countries such as Australia and New Zealand had managed their COVID-19 situations with strict measures.
“Bear in mind they are islands just like us and so the control of people in and out of their countries was achievable, and they did just that, they controlled the disease in their countries such that Australia has less numbers than Jamaica in spite of it being a continent,” he said.
“Because of that, they were able to return to sport because there is one thing we have to accept, when all is said and done, is that public health has to get priority, people dying have to be prevented and that was the focus of everybody's strategy against COVID,” said the noted doctor of sports medicine.
Mansingh said Jamaica's failure to adopt those strict measures has led to the present situation where sports is still not been played.
“Where you could say we might have failed, and I say that, as it goes hand in hand with what goes in a country's policy, is that we saw spikes after the emancipation and Independence Day celebrations last year, we saw a spike after the general elections and, therefore, we knew there was going to be a spike after Christmas and, in fact, the minister said, 'expect a spike', but what we didn't do was put in measures, like the other countries did to stop that spike and so we ended up with community spread and we are where we are now,” he noted.
Mass vaccination and herd immunity, Mansingh said, was the only way for Jamaica to return to football competition.
“Unfortunately, the way [novel coronavirus] is being spread in our communities right now, I guess the only way we are looking at resumption of safe sports, outside of a bubble situation, is through mass vaccination,” Mansingh told the meeting.
“So if you are asking about the figures, we know that if we have herd immunity with vaccination of about 60 per cent of the population, we stand a good chance of getting back to some sort of normalcy, until then we will still have to practise measures,” he added.
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