Covid-19 has created numerous challenges for sport here in Trinidad and Tobago and across the globe.
The response in certain quarters to the global pandemic has been very encouraging, bio-secure bubbles facilitating a Test cricket series between hosts England and West Indies, completion of the National Basketball Association (NBA) season in the United States, and staging of Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket here in T&T.
In other quarters, however, Covid-19 has proven to be an agent of paralysis. Locally, many sports have had no competitions since March. Among them is athletics, the National Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAA) having made a decision in May to cancel the remainder of the 2020 season.
Covid-19 has also wreaked havoc in athletics in the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) region. NACAC president, Bahamian Mike Sands (MS) spoke to Express sports journalist Kwame Laurence (KL) about the challenges faced by his organisation.
KL: How has Covid-19 impacted the NACAC region?
MS: As it has done throughout the world, it has caused numerous cancellations to our physical track and field events. However, the plus side is that it has also created the need and provided the opportunity to do more frequent virtual meetings and events with the membership at large which has brought us closer together as an athletics family.
KL: With Diamond League meets having been staged over in Europe, and also in Qatar, do you expect NACAC athletes to be at a disadvantage going into the 2021 season and the Olympics?
MS: Fortunately, a number of our Area top tier athletes have had opportunities to compete on the European circuit, albeit on a limited basis. Notwithstanding the fact that the 2020 season was abbreviated, I do not believe that our Area athletes will be at a distinct disadvantage going into the 2021 season and the Olympic Games. Obviously the coaches will have to make the necessary adjustments to their original plans, and I have every confidence that they will be up to the task.
KL: Jamaica, United States and Cuba had some competitions. Are you satisfied with the efforts to have meets, or do you think more could have been done in other countries?
MS: I congratulate the Member Federations (MFs), such as the ones mentioned, for their efforts in hosting meets under the difficult and unusual circumstances. I am also aware that a number of MFs also had plans to host competitions, including NACAC itself. Unfortunately, based on the restrictions placed on gatherings and other established protocols by the various MF health authorities, it became impossible for any other events to take place in the various jurisdictions. So, yes, I am satisfied that best efforts were made.
KL: Is there anything in place, financially or otherwise, to help NACAC athletes get ready for the 2021 season and the Olympics?
MS: You may recall that World Athletics (WA) introduced an athletes' assistance programme early in the pandemic of which a number of our NACAC athletes were beneficiaries. I am also aware that several of our Area National Olympic Committees (NOCs) also provided some form of financial assistance to our athletes.
KL: Are you confident there will be an Olympic Games next year?
MS: With today's modern science and the will by so many countries and others collaborating to find a vaccine, I am confident that the world will be in a far better place in the coming year, which will permit the Olympic Games to take place, even if there are certain restrictions that have to be applied, which I also understand is under consideration.
KL: Are you confident Carifta Games will be held in Bermuda next year?
MS: One of the most difficult decisions we were forced to make as an executive council was the cancellation of our marquee junior event, the Carifta Games. But, like the 2021 Olympic Games, I am also confident that the 2021 Carifta Games will take place. To this end, I can also share with you that we are in constant communication with the athletic leadership in this regard.
KL: What is the likely long-term impact of Covid-19 on athletics?
MS: Covid-19 has forced us all to be much more concerned about our health and the associated protocols. In my opinion, this is a very good thing as a "new normal". However, the long-term impact could very well be the limited amount of in-stadium fan base support, which is not the best environment for athletes to be motivated and to compete in.
KL: Anything else you would like to comment on?
MS: Although Covid-19 has been an unforeseen event impacting the world at large, it has given us many positive outlooks in terms of our communication and health awareness, providing us opportunity to rethink strategies and continue implementing technology for future events on a global basis. And I have no doubts of the benefits and advances they augur for the progressive development of our beloved sport.