Tue | Jun 6, 2023

‘Champs for Peace’

Organisers highlight friendly rivalry as track and field spectacular gets under way

Published:Tuesday | March 28, 2023 | 1:21 AMCorey Robinson/Senior Staff Reporter

ORGANISERS SAY they are anticipating a peaceful ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships, a contrast to former years when the much-anticipated event was marred with violent altercations between overzealous supporters.

The five-day championships start today and officials say several private security firms have been employed to work alongside the police to ensure safety. Firefighters and emergency ambulance service will also be on standby in preparation for any eventualities, they explained.

“Years ago, we had the Peace for Champs campaign in schools, but over time, we have managed that situation to a point where that element has not become necessary. It is more a Champs for Peace initiative now,” charged Richard Thompson, chairman of the championships.

“People now see Champs as an opportunity to promote peace rather than a situation where we have to be promoting peace before we go into the championships,” he continued. “I think we are seeing a more friendly rivalry among students rather than that grand confrontation that used to happen. It is about friendly rivalry.”

Thompson added: “This year is about ensuring that patrons understand what items are prohibited. There should be no weapons, no glass bottles, or anything else that can be used as dangerous missiles,” he said. “Certain umbrellas and flagsticks are ‘no-nos’ as well.

“Patrons must also ensure their personal security, that of their property and health,” Thompson continued, adding that even though the national COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, individuals must strive to protect themselves from this and other communicable diseases.

Thompson was not willing to speak to the security costs for the event yesterday, but noted that it would have demanded a chunk of the budget “based on what is going on in the country. You would be foolish not to give consideration to that.”

In the meantime, the head of the St Andrew Central Police, Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, said the police will be taking extensive measures both inside and outside of the stadium to facilitate a safe event. Bus stops and other congestion points are no exceptions.

“Security for Champs is being handled from the headquarters level within the department. Very senior officers will be in charge each day on a shift system with the requisite amount of police officers to cover the stadium,” he assured, adding that the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch deal with traffic congestion.

“While we don’t expect any major issues this time around, certainly we have plans afoot to mitigate any occurrences, especially when it is coming to the end of the week,” said Nesbeth.

“He also noted that security will also be tight at customary after-Champs parties.

COLLABORATION

There is one major event that is to be held on Constant Spring Road, he recalled, and although the location falls outside of his jurisdiction, communication is being made with cops in that locale to ensure there are no spillovers. The police are also in dialogue with event organisers.

“Within their own ranks we want to encourage patrons that the rivalry is friendly; don’t get overboard with any overzealous behaviours, and don’t create harm for anybody,” Nesbeth said, warning youngsters to traverse in groups and be on the lookout for phone thieves.

“While we have police coverage all around, we cannot be in all places so we ask that they don’t congregate unnecessarily. Move to the various locations as quickly as possible and take the appropriate transportation,” he urged.

The Peace for Champs initiative was started in 2008 by Senior Superintendent Terrence Bent following a slew of violent clashes between students of rival schools. It was aimed to curb the clashes leading up to and after the event.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com