Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Richard Qaasen Sealy
It is our hope that recent decisions made by the administrators of government do not indicate that we are living in an Orwellian society where the hypocrisy that exists reinforces the perception that though we are all equal, some are more equal than others.
It would seem that decisions made were instructed, not by science, reality or fact but rather by personal interests, or more accurately in this instance, disinterest and indifference.
On July 13th of this year, the Office of the Attorney General issued its most recent directive, Emergency Management (COVID-19) (Curfew) (No.12) Directive, 2021 paragraph 11 sub- paragraph (6) issued on Monday, July 12th which stated: “Notwithstanding paragraph (1), the following sports are prohibited: (a)Boxing (b)Martial Arts, not including Tai Chi, and (c)Wrestling.”
Whilst this prohibition was placed on martial arts and combat sports all other forms of sport were permitted to continue during this two-week lockdown. Additionally, churches – the source of COVID-19 clusters on more than one occasion – were allowed to congregate with a maximum of 100 worshippers, cinemas – another closed air environment – were allowed to have a maximum of 100 patrons. So too were, fraternal societies, private and social clubs, civic associations and organisations, graduations, prize giving and receptions.
Additionally, outdoor social events such as picnic gatherings and limes were allowed up to 40 persons. No other businesses were required to close except for dance studios and the rationale for singling out martial arts and combats sports, except for Tai Chi, in this directive has been called into question by the Martial Sports Federation of Barbados (MSFB), the appointed umbrella body for martial sports recognized by the National Sports Council.
At the point of issuing this release, no justification has been provided for why this step was taken. Is this a punitive measure or was the decision stoked by fear and ignorance of these sporting disciplines? We are calling for a full and fair review of the current directive and for a justification of why it was issued.
Efforts have already been made to discuss this matter and have it rescinded. The MSFB has communicated with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Attorney General, the Minister of Sports, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit to have this matter addressed.
So far, it appears that a game of “pass the buck” is being played and the Federation is caught in a classic Catch-22 situation. Responses have included: “I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your email on the captioned subject.” – Office of the Prime Minister.
“While I am the individual who will grant an exemption, I must advise that I do not make those judgements without consulting with the Ministry of Health. It was the Ministry of Health that recommended that martial arts be prohibited and your arguments as set out in your letter have been shared with them.” – Attorney General
“This matter is to be considered by the COVID Monitoring Unit (CMU). I will be guided.” – Chief Medical Officer. Members of the Federation however have confirmed with us that in their discussions with the CMU, it was indicated that though they don’t see the logic of the directive, it is law and only the Attorney General could change it.
It would appear that the often-touted principles of our redominantly Christian society seem to have eluded them, particularly Matthew 25:40 – “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
One of the biggest concerns that the MSFB has is the perceptions and attitudes that those in positions of power have towards what is a developing industry.
The global impact that combat sports has on popular culture hould not be underestimated nor can their economic contribution be overstated. Perhaps they should take note that at least eight combat sports have received full recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), three of them this month alone.
Though many coaches still teach on a part-time basis some have transitioned to teaching/coaching as a fulltime profession and some have established businesses. Martial arts is not just a way of life for them, it is also their livelihood.
When they don’t work they don’t get paid. When they don’t get paid, their families can’t eat. Most of these individuals qualify as self- employed and did not benefit from grants issued last year by the National Insurance Scheme.
Some received in total a $500 to $1000 grant from the Small Business Bureau of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for the entire period they were closed. Others received nothing at all.
It should be understood that when the pandemic started martial art/combat sports facilities were some of the first to be closed (March 2020) and have also been the last allowed to reopen (April 2021).
The perception of those in the medical community is that COVID-19 may well be with us for the next five years and we must prepare for that eventuality.
Most of the coaches and instructors we have spoken to have expressed that they have exhausted their resources over the past fifteen months (both in term of personal savings and loans). What if the shut down is extended again due to another outbreak? How are they expected to survive?
The fact is, the protocols implemented by martial arts facilities are in many cases more stringent than those instituted at other facilities and businesses (see Appendix 1). We have always had to be concerned about personal hygiene and the sanitation of our training environments.
Staph infections, hepatitis B & C and HIV are all real concerns that we have had to address in our training environments and protocols had to be in place to combat them. COVID-19 protocols are a natural extension of this and we have implemented them accordingly.
Why then are we being singled out and penalised? What makes us more dangerous than other business and sports? How many cases of Covid-19 clusters have been reported within the martial arts community? Zero!
If something is not done, we will see the permanent closure of some of these gyms/schools as has happened in the much more affluent and developed countries. This may seem insignificant to some but when you weigh the impact that martial arts/combat sports have had on shaping the character of our citizens and the growing contribution it is making to the sports tourism product, you may want to reconsider that line of thinking.
What is equally perplexing is the exemption given to Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan). What is so different or special about this martial art relative to all others? It follows the same format of all other martial arts (forms, partners training, equipment training, weapons training and even grappling) so why is this discipline allowed and the others not?
We empathise with our cousins the dancers for it seems that the perception also exist that solo dancing does not exist. Haven’t they heard of ballet, jazz, tap and Afro-Caribbean dance all of which can be practiced socially distanced?
Again, we are calling for a full and fair review of the current directive and for future consultation between relevant government agencies and the respective martial arts/combat sports bodies to chart a path forward in these very challenging times.
We may not yet have the economic or political clout of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association or the religious and fraternal institutions of Barbados but that does not mean that we should be slighted, penalised or ignored.
Richard Qaasen Sealy is the acting president of the Martial Sports Federation of Barbados. The column was a public release made by the federation.