By Gregory Bryce
The Manning and DaCosta Cup competitions have been a mainstay in the sporting calendar of Jamaica over the years, and they are not only highly anticipated competitions for the high schools involved, but they are well regarded island wide by the general public. Whether they be alumni of the school or just football fans, the supporters are always anticipating a good showing year after year. The 2020 edition of the school boy competition however, has been cancelled by the relevant bodies and this is a decision I can wholeheartedly agree with.
It has only been a few days since the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) announced that all sporting events have effectively been cancelled for the upcoming Christmas Term and included in that group of sporting events are the Manning Cup, DaCosta Cup and all other school boy football competitions – i.e. the Walker Cup, Ben Francis Cup, Champions’ Cup and Olivier Shield.
The announcement came after the recent spike in number of COVID-19 cases on the island which will also cause a delay in the reopening of schools. President of ISSA, Keith Wellington, had previously hinted at an October start date for the schoolboy competitions – pending the government’s approval – but has since announced that this plan would be binned.
“The decision is reasonable, with the COVID-19 cases and everything else it would have affected. I suspect there will be different opinions as to what we should have done or what we should be doing, but I don’t think there are many persons who could provide any assurance that we could have a competition any time between now and December that would be safe for the kids to participate in,” Wellington said.
The responses to the announcement have been fairly similar across the board – expressions of disappointment but also, understanding. Most shareholders have agreed with the decision but there are few who have spoken out against the cancellation.
In an Observer interview, coach of Manning’s High school, Godfrey Drummond, said that while he understands the reasons behind the decision, he felt that the competition could have been given the greenlight. Drummond says that by creating a ‘bio-bubble’ at certain venues, quarantining the players in various camps and playing in a shorter and more match-packed schedule (similar to what the English Premier League did), the competition could have been held.
While an avid sports fan and a former Manning Cup player myself, I cannot support such an idea that is inherently flawed- at least, in my opinion. While this could have been explored at a profession level (and might be within the reach of the Red Stripe Premier League), it is simply not practical for schoolboy competition.
Firstly, the cost of this would be improbable, if not outright impossible, for the various schools to cover. An excess of 140 schools take part in both rural and urban competitions and the funds to provide specialized camps for every single school would be too astronomical for the schools to bear – even provided help from ISSA. Financially, Drummond’s vision is impractical.
Another point that should also be taken into consideration is the disservice this would cause for the players academically. Something that should never be disregarded is the fact that these players are also students. Their academics should be the main priority. What would Drummond’s suggestion be in regards to these players – who are being quarantined – receiving adequate education? Would they be allowed to attend regular classes where they would be exposed to possibly infected individuals from a variety of classes and backgrounds? (Let us also bear in mind that not all persons infected will show symptoms.) Or do we ask an already strained schooling system to further create alternative plans that they have neither the resources nor staff to implement?
And lastly, the health and well being of the athlete must also be considered, not only in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in gameplay. A professional athlete plays an average of two to three matches a week. A Jamaican student-athlete plays on average three to four matches a week. By condensing an already exhausting schedule, we run the risk of a footballer playing up to four to five matches a week (not including training sessions) which would be physical exhausting and overtaxing on the students involved.
Drummond might have had good intentions for his players, but it is simply impractical to carry out his idea for the season, and would be harmful to all students involved. At this point in time, ISSA is considering a 2021 start of the season and this might be the best plan of action (although that plan also has its fair share of issues).
The cancellation of schoolboy football competitions was the right move for ISSA to make, and I urge all stakeholders to follow the example of Camperdown High’s coach, Christopher Bender, who says he will be using the time which would have been focused on preparing for the season to make sure that his players are up to par academically.
“Although we are disappointed about not playing, more importantly what we want to do is to make sure the students-athletes at Camperdown leave with at least five subjects,” Bender said in an interview with the Gleaner. “With the five or six subjects plus the SAT exam, it would put them in good stead to get a scholarship.”
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.