Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Concerns raised ahead of Boyz friendlies

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2020 | 12:16 AMDaniel Wheeler/Staff Reporter

Jamaica’s long wait to play an international friendly is expected to end next month as they are scheduled to play two games against Saudi Arabia. However, the impending fixtures come in the midst of concerns for the safety of players, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact world football.

National captain and goalkeeper Andre Blake says that the current health climate makes the prospect of travel for international games frightening.

“It’s a little bit scary and I am not sure about the protocols but I know when I’m in Major League Soccer (MLS) we get tested three to four times a week,” Blake told The Gleaner. “As it relates to travel for international games, I’m not sure what are the protocols as it relates to that, but I’m pretty sure that they [Jamaica Football Federation] should be putting some things in place.”

While major European leagues managed, for the most part, to complete last season’s campaigns with relatively low COVID-19 cases, the latest October international window has proven difficult to stop positive cases.

The most high-profile positive case from the recent international break involved Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo, who tested positive for the virus while on duty for Portugal. He played two matches early this month before the findings and has since returned to Italy to continue with the isolation protocols.

A number of federations, such as France, Greece, Scotland, Cameroon, and Peru, lost players during the recent international window either because of positive COVID-19 cases or mandatory isolation due to contact tracing.

SERIOUS DECISIONS TO MAKE

In light of the risks involved, former national assistant Bradley Stewart believes that the players would have serious decisions to make whether or not to accept the call-up at this time.

“I think that from the perspective of the individual player, some of it is going to be risky, based on the countries that you currently participate in and what their regulations are in terms of quarantine, and the fact that we are not highly placed on some people’s listing,” Stewart said. “In terms of players factoring their own health, I’m sure that there are going to be decisions not to travel to countries where they are not so confident about what is happening in those places.”

For Blake, he says that it will be a “day-by-day” decision whether or not to join the team for the friendlies on November 14 and 17 should he be called up. However, he maintains that he wants to be able to return to national team duty.

“You always want to represent your country. I’ll be communicating with the team manager and coach [Theodore] Whitmore as we get close [to the games],” Blake said. “I’m pretty sure they will be communicating with my club as well to see what’s the best decision and how we move forward.”

Reggae Boyz team manager Roy Simpson said that contact has been made with overseas clubs who have national players available for selection, asking for COVID-19 tests for players in preparation for the upcoming friendlies. He says that he does not anticipate those call-ups being declined.

“They understand, just like we do, the climate that we are operating in as it relates to COVID-19. We do not foresee any player not wanting to participate because of what is happening,” Simpson said. “We have assured all our partners that the safety and well-being of everyone is paramount.”

Both matches will take place at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

daniel.wheeler@gleanerjm.com