Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Editorial | Champs, Olympics and overcoming uncertainties

Published:Saturday | May 15, 2021 | 12:09 AM

Student-athletes returned to the National Stadium earlier this week to compete for honours in the 2021 ISSA/GraceKennedy Championships, which was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19.

In some ways, the Government, in giving the green light for the Championships, is a turning point in Jamaica’s response to sporting events in the ongoing pandemic. Athletes and their coaches were eager to get on with their sport, which gives them a stage on which to impress and score bragging rights for their schools. But there is also a personal investment for the Championships: it is the portal through which many of our top performers enter international competitions to chase their big dreams. Beyond that, it is also where they get noticed and picked up for scholarships and also get sponsorship opportunities.

Current safety protocols dictated by the health authorities have resulted in a different kind of Champs: no crowds, no festive atmosphere. Where once there used to be fans electrified by the performances of their teams, reacting raucously and engaging in friendly banter in the stands, they have been forced to retreat to their living rooms to watch their favourite athletes on television.

Will Champs turn out to be a superspreader of the coronavirus? Only time will tell.

CLAIMING VICTORY OVER COVID-19

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, Japan is making preparations to kick off the Olympics on July 23, more than a year later than originally scheduled. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that to be able to stage the Olympics this year would be proof of humanity’s victory over the coronavirus.

The sceptics have said that it is way too early to claim such a victory because scientists are having to revise their recommendations on a regular basis since there is just so much about this virus that is yet to be understood.

Even though Japan is not allowing foreign spectators to go to the stadiums, they are expecting 60,000 athletes from 200 countries to participate. Added to that, they are estimating that 150,000 volunteers will be needed to work the 42 venues across the country where events will be staged. So even with great strategies in place, this would be a mammoth undertaking in normal times, how much more so during a pandemic?

Japan is far from achieving herd immunity, with merely 0.3 per cent of its population vaccinated so far, and this is one reason why a growingly sceptical Japanese public is opposing the staging of the Olympics and has called for them to be postponed.

One recent action, which is designed to assure the Japanese public of the priority being given to the health and safety of athletes, is the memorandum of understanding signed between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Pfizer/BioNTech, which will result in the donation of vaccines to Game participants from the olympic and paralympic committees around the world. The plan calls for local committees to work with their respective governments to coordinate the distribution of the vaccines.

Slowly, sport action is returning, yet there is plenty of uncertainty. For example, a coronavirus outbreak among New York Yankee team members who have been fully vaccinated is causing concern in the baseball world.

Understandably, people are anxious to get back to pre-pandemic life. The global sports calendar has seen football, golf, tennis, and auto racing, among others, and many are planning their comeback. In these extraordinary times, the clear message is that we must learn to live with this virus and others that may follow.