The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced most countries into unchartered waters. Though the world has seen a previous pandemic, most, if not all of those who would have dealt with the horrors of the 1918 Spanish Flu have departed this earth or are pretty close to doing so. Government, after some initial bungling, has been trying its best to handle the situation under trying circumstances and is generally to be complimented. The indefatigable Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic, has proven to be one of Government’s greatest assets, if not the greatest asset, and has provided a reassuring voice and presence in a period of uncertainty.
Barbadians should not expect perfection in Government’s responses to the pandemic, but they will anticipate common sense and a degree of logic. It is within this context that the policy as it relates to sports and physical activity has stretched logic to some degree from the outset. Recently, there has been relaxation of the restrictions on sporting activities but these still have left room for speculation on what specifically is guiding the decision-making process. Last week it was announced that all sporting activities could resume in practice and training mode but no tournaments. However, sporting bodies must submit intended protocols to the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit for prior approval. The inherent suggestion, though, is that the activities allowed would be conducted under the aegis of some organised group or as stated, “sporting bodies”. But oftentimes groups of individuals undertake sporting activities in several disciplines in an ad hoc, spontaneous manner for the sake of fun and exercise. Do they in every instance have to seek permission from the monitoring unit or are such activities strictly confined to organised clubs or associations? Does a group of golfers, squash or tennis players, with access to facilities, have to seek permission and present protocol strategies to the monitoring unit before embarking on their sport?
And we ask these questions because hundreds of people are filing through and mingling in shops, supermarkets, mega marts and other retail outlets in greater volume than one is likely to see on a golf course or at the Aquatic Centre.
Therefore, why is it that sport is being policed by the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit? What is the basis for restricting sporting activity in a time when exercise and fitness are most needed?
What is their reference to the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit? Government is seeking to return to face-to-face teaching within schools. Worshippers are now allowed to practise their various faiths in larger numbers in churches, mosques or perhaps synagogues than one is likely to find on a basketball or netball court. So where is the consistency in the logic guiding these decisions? And for those who will refer to social distancing and other protocols, they ought to visit the places of worship before and after the various services are completed. We are fully supportive of Government’s efforts to combat this pandemic but its policies and decision-making must not come over as inconsistent, nonsensical and most of all, discriminatory.
Recently, members of the horseracing fraternity asked that their sport be allowed to resume. The suggestion was made that the sport of kings would be conducted behind closed doors. We do not know what the Barbados Turf Club’s strategy to make the Garrison Savannah a “closed doors” facility, but we note that the sport is among those still banned. Taking into consideration that most of the contact in that sport is between trainer and horse, groom and horse, jockey and horse, and horse and horse, perhaps the idea of fan-less horseracing is worthy of trial. We appreciate that these are not easy decisions to make but if science and reason are the applications being used to make decisions on sports, there must be a level of consistency and logic behind what is being enforced on individuals.
Government has indicated that sporting activity can resume but not tournaments. But what about tournaments without spectators? Government has not stipulated a cap on the number of participants in the sports allowed, so what differentiates 10 persons on the greens practising from ten golfers competing earnestly for the COVID-19 Protocols Cup? A few contact sports such as boxing and rugby are still under ban. But if co-workers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital are forced to associate closely with each other by virtue of their jobs on a daily basis, what makes two individuals with gloves, headgear and mouthpiece in a ring, any more susceptible to COVID-19 than doctors and nurses?
Some may argue that one activity might be necessary but sporting activity is not and can be kept on hold. But the science suggests differently. The experts suggest that a strong immune system, fitness and exercise are key elements in the fight against COVID-19. Sitting at home, eating, inactive and packing on the pounds is playing into the pathway of the coronavirus.
One can only speculate whether there might have been a different outcome if those seated on that infamous bus crawl or similarly positioned in Mr Scantlebury’s northern church, had instead been soaking up the sun and sweating profusely from sporting exertions in the great outdoors. In the meantime, adhere to all Government protocols.