By Gregory Bryce
The ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs) had to be cancelled last year due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The annual competition is seen as the foremost track event for young track and field athletes, and serves as a platform for many of Jamaica’s current batch of young athletes to display their talents.
After last year’s cancellation – followed by the decision to cancel the Manning and DaCosta Cup seasons later that year – there were concerns about whether the event would resume in 2021.
The 2021 staging of Champs was confirmed however, late in 2020, and the proposed dates would see the event being held from March 22 – 27, with a few changes in the scheduling of events.
Fans of athletics were even more optimistic of a return to normalcy after the successful staging of the Tyser Mills Development Meet at the Calabar High School earlier in December.
However, while there have been hopes for a successful return, the planning of the event has reached its first stumbling block after the Ministry of Health recently announced that the COVID-19 restrictions on the island will be extended until the end of January, which makes the March proposed date for Champs impossible to meet.
Speaking about the issue, Garth Gayle, president of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), confirmed that the March dates are not feasible for Champs having been pushed back by the extended COVID-19 restrictions in effect.
Gayle explained, however, that they had thought ahead for such a possibility and had already considered alternate dates should the event need to be pushed back.
“The extension will affect Champs as the March dates will not be feasible. The technical committee had the foresight to put in an alternative date and we will see how it goes from here,” Gayle said. “The Government has to look out for the best for the entire country, but we will be working closely with the Ministries of Sports and Health and Wellness and hopefully we will get back on track soonest.”
As such, Champs 2021 – should it take place – will not be held as usual in the last week of March. However, it will be staged on May 4 – 8.
Despite all of this, however, I find it highly unlikely that Champs will be anywhere close to the grand event that it has been in the past due to having to adhere to health protocols. In fact, I wonder what the crowd arrangements will be like – seeing that Champs regularly carries fans in the thousands.
Will fans be allowed to enter the venue? Will only a reduced number of fans be allowed in? Or rather, will the Ministry of Health allow for the mass gathering of supporters and fans alike?
But before we can even get into the numbers regarding the crowd, it is important to ask how many schools will enter the competition, seeing many of the schools are still not allowed to host training sessions.
Keith Wellington, the president of ISSA, described it well when he spoke about the issue.
“We are putting on the meet for schools who are willing and able to participate if we can provide a safe environment,” he said. “It is not unexpected that some schools will not be willing or not be able to, however, those that are unable to under the circumstances cannot be disenfranchised. It would be unreasonable to expect a Champs of the standard we have become accustomed to. The idea is to provide the opportunity for a return to competitive participation, not necessarily to stage the customary fanfare.”
As of now, Champs 2021 seems to be full steam ahead. Let’s see how long this will last.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports writer.
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