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Stakeholders weigh in on pandemic's impact on sports

BY SANJAY MYERS
Senior staff reporter
myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sport activities are prominent among the hefty list of casualties as countries wrestle with controlling the novel coronavirus pandemic which has claimed over 2.5 million lives and ravaged economies everywhere.

In Jamaica, most sports were shut down after the island recorded its first handful of coronavirus cases last March.

Only recently, track and field organisers got government's approval to stage development meets on a case-by-case basis — a major development since the postponed 2020 Olympics Games are rescheduled for this year.

Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) President Garth Gayle, though relieved, suggested the work has just started.

“The circumstances we are in are dire, but our job is to excavate the opportunities within these challenges,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“We, the stakeholders, athletes, coaches, and support members must now act with exceeding responsibility in order for these development meets to be continued.

“We would have seen the cancellation of many development meets and competitive opportunities for athletes. Clearly, for junior athletes it can impact scholarship prospects, and for senior athletes it impacts their opportunity to earn,” the JAAA boss explained.

The horse racing industry — a massive business — has escaped the worst of the financial bite because competition at Caymanas Park was allowed to restart in mid-2020.

“This placed a spotlight on horse racing, but we are confident that since resumption, the model has worked, realising more winnings for our punters while giving employment to the thousands of people who are part of this valuable eco-system,” said Solomon Sharpe, chairman of Supreme Ventures Racing & Entertainment Limited (SVREL), which promotes horse racing in Jamaica.

The quest for approval has been different for football, the most widely played team sport in Jamaica.

Stakeholders continue to lobby the government, seeking approval for resumption of competition, though ironically, it was the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), the local governing body, which initially shuttered activities midway last season due to the outbreak of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

“The [inactivity] has affected our ability to execute our mandate to develop the sport, but we continue to do what we can, administratively, in the best way possible,” said JFF General Secretary Dalton Wint.

“The premier league — which we depend on for our national senior team — has not been approved yet, so that puts us and the players at a disadvantage as we're going into World Cup qualifying campaign. But this is the situation we find ourselves in and we have to find a way around it.

“There has been a hit on gate receipt and sponsorship…we have seen where some sponsors have asked us to suspend contractual arrangements we have had with them. It has affected not just us, but the clubs and parish associations,” he lamented.

Courtney Francis, the Jamaica Cricket Association chief executive officer, told the Observer that pending the go-ahead from the government it will have to gradually ease back into hosting events.

“The general consensus is that we'd have to do it in increments…start small with those practice sessions, because we can't just get permission and then start playing competitive cricket. There are components as it relates to fitness, plus we have to get venues up and running,” he explained.

Netball, hugely popular among Jamaicans, and less traditional sports, are also biding their time.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, speaking recently at a meeting of the Standing Finance Committee, expressed her willingness to help sporting bodies.

“We are mindful of the impact [of shutdown] and within the context of this 'new normal' we must work even harder on creating the conditions for sustainable growth in the creative and cultural industries, including sport,” she said.

Grange added: “We understand the plight, we understand the concern, [and] we understand the fact that earnings have been put on hold…”

Denzil Wilks, the general manager of the State-run Sports Development Foundation (SDF) which provides grants for sporting bodies, said the restrictions have not dented its core operations.

“A decision was taken that we would continue to provide [for] all the associations that we were in the process of supporting [because] their difficulties were tremendous,” he told the Observer.

“In terms of another aspect of what we do, which is the build-out of infrastructure…it didn't require any significant gathering. We probably were able to do a little more than usual given that it was our main focus because so many other things were not happening.

“The biggest fallout from our perspective was the inability of the associations to, of course, formalise events because events are antithesis to the whole pandemic,” Wilks said.

The SDF general manager said that in 2020 field upgrades and work on multi-purpose courts and changing facilities were completed across the island. Among major accomplishments was the upgrade of the outdoor basketball facility at the National Stadium.