By Gregory Bryce
The ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships, better known as Champs, could possibly be cancelled for the second straight year in a row as the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association (ISSA) is yet to receive the green light from the government regarding permission to host the multi-day event. As such, Keith Wellington, the president of ISSA as well as the principal of the St. Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), says a decision has been made about whether or not there will be a Champs 2021.
“We met with our major stakeholders and our sponsors and we have come to a decision, but that will not be communicated until the start of next week,” Wellington said when he spoke to the Jamaica Observer.
Based on many external factors, I will predict that we will be going another straight year without Champs going underway.
In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that ISSA will be able to go ahead with the plans to host Champs since they are yet to receive word from the government as to whether or not they will be allowed to go ahead. After all, we saw the example of what happened when the JFF had not awaited the government’s ruling, and in that instance, had their training camp shut down instantly.
Surely ISSA will not be making the same mistake?
Of course, it is a lot easier to simply say ‘Cancel all sporting events in a pandemic’ when you aren’t the one that is directly being affected by the ramifications of another ‘Champs-less’ year. The health of all athletes are, correctly, the main priority of the organizers and government alike, and with the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to increase day after day, it seems even more unlikely for any return to normalcy anytime soon.
But then what will become of athletes who are in their last year, and who have staked their future on good performances at Champs as a way to get access to tertiary education? Will they simply be brushed aside and allowed to slip into obscurity? We have already had a set of athletes who had to end their high school athletics career on a bad note because of Champs’ cancellation. Will there be another set of students who will have to hang their boots up early due to the pandemic? Surely Champs can be reinstated in some way, shape, or form that could allow these athletes a platform on which they can showcase their talent.
ISSA feels they have found the right set-up and bolstered by the success of other track events that have been permitted by the government, there was some optimism that we could have seen a 2021 Champs. But that optimism seems to have been deflated to almost nothing as we inch closer and closer to the scheduled dates, but with no confirmation that Champs will be held.
As I have said before, I think the next time we will see our high school athletes lining up in the blocks at Champs will, unfortunately, be in the year 2022. Of course, I hope I am wrong, and that the government will give permission for the event to take place as long as it follows the proper medical and safety protocols. But as I write this article, and having taken into account the words by Wellington, the president of ISSA, I fail to see how that will be possible.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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