ISSA Urged To Consider Champs Without Spectators.

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ISSA Urged To Consider Champs Without Spectators

Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) President Dr Warren Blake has suggested that the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) take a page out of the books of a number of major sports organisers and consider the option of staging the five-day national high schools Boys' and Girls' Championships (“Champs”) without spectators, if necessary, to avoid spreading the dreaded COVID-19 that has been wreaking havoc in parts of the world.

Blake, who is also a medical practitioner, said given the rapid spread of the “influenza-type virus” the lack of exhaustive testing by health authorities in the United States — from where a number of fans are expected to travel for the event — it would be best if the organisers erred on the side of caution when dealing with the virus that can be spread by person-to-person contact.

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Keith Wellington, president of ISSA, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday the organisation was not sitting back idly but has started to discuss the situation, and a meeting of a newly formed committee will be held tomorrow to determine the way forward.

Wellington said ISSA had met on Friday “with a specialist who is advising us” and who was “in the process of setting up a committee led by her and other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health”.

He also said he had discussions with the individual “who is responsible for the Government's planning and execution of the activities around the threat”.

Champs has been staged without fans in the past, the most recent being 2002 when it was held at GC Foster College, which, at the time, had no spectator seating, as the National Stadium was being refurbished for the staging of the World Junior Track and Field Championships.

Yesterday, Blake stressed that he was not calling for the March 24-28 event, which attracts up to 28,000 spectators on the final day, to be cancelled. “I am not making any declarations, I am just saying we should keep an eye on what is going on, and this is where my suggestion comes in; it should be one of the options. If it becomes a situation of a public health concern and you cannot put a crowd together [without a threat] then there is the possibility of having the athletes compete without a crowd,” he argued during Sunday's final day of the JAAA CARIFTA Trials at National Stadium.

Blake said staging the event without spectators would result in a serious economic fall-out, not just for the organisers, but for those who depend on it every year as well.

“There is no two way that there would not be an economic fall-out, it's already having economic fall out around the globe as sports is big business, and we are not just talking about track and field, but basketball and football; some games have also been played without crowds — that is one option.

Yesterday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all Italian Series A football matches suspended until at least April 3 after 97 more deaths took Italy's COVID-19 toll to 463.

Several other competitions, including the European Champions and Europa Cups, have announced that several games will be played without fans, while the American NBA has also said it is considering taking the same action.

Earlier this year World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) postponed, to next year, the World Indoors championships that were due to be held in China this month.

On Sunday, Blake launched a scathing attack on the American health authorities, calling for global condemnation on their casual approach to COVID-19 testing.

“America did something that the world should really condemn, in not testing and going all out to test all suspected cases and people with unexplained flu symptoms,” Blake said. “And if you notice in America, the death rate from the coronavirus is the highest in the world, more than Italy. Their death rate tops everybody because the number of cases tested and confirmed does not reflect the true number of people infected with the coronavirus,” he said.

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