Comment: Sport ‘wafted away like it’s an unpleasant smell’

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But today, almost a year on from Jersey’s first case being recorded, I hold little sympathy.

Agreed, when the likes of messieurs Le Fondré, Farnham and Renouf raised their hands for top jobs within the government they could not have predicted what was to come, and there is no question of them not doing their utmost to ensure speedy passage to brighter times. But in taking on ministerial duties they chose to lead Jersey through thick and thin; in sickness and in health. And in doing so they will also have understood that even in thick fog, the least Islanders deserve is clarity of thought and clear justification for the decisions made.

I fear they are not currently being offered that clarity when it comes to the return of sport.

I appreciate we cannot have it all at once and we must remain sensible, cautious and committed to the greater good, but at each corner turned in recent weeks there have been new Covid-19 policies which seemingly contradict previous or accompanying guidance. And they have done little to ease the growing sense of bafflement within the community.

Some of the measures, to me, simply do not make sense.

Senator John Le Fondré stressed on Friday that it was imperative that we stuck to ‘controlled mixing in controlled situations’. I could not agree more. However, in the early stages of the pandemic sports-club volunteers and gym owners across Jersey spent hours formulating new protocols for their venues, players, coaches and fans – protocols which were subsequently (and largely successfully) implemented throughout summer and autumn.

As far as I’m aware, there is no evidence pointing towards a single Covid case arising in Jersey directly from outdoor fleeting-contact sports such as football and hockey, yet those activities remain banned for adults while industries publicly acknowledged to have played a part in our ‘second wave’ – including the hospitality sector – are soon to return, if they haven’t already.

The Chief Minister added that the mental wellbeing of our youth is the reason for allowing them to return to outdoor team sport from tomorrow – 19 days before their senior colleagues. Yet Island juniors are already reaping the physical and psychological rewards of being permitted to play both indoor and outdoor sport as part of school PE lessons.

What about the mental wellbeing of those past their 18th birthday, who are no longer in school education and therefore restricted to a handful of ‘team’ activities which do not exceed the ten-person limit?

As of next Monday, senior football teams, for example, will be permitted to sit together in a bar or restaurant, but not spread themselves out on a 100-yard pitch which is closed off to all spectators and also requires a ‘sign-in’ for attendees. They will be able to continue attending barber shops or hair salons, which by definition rely on continued direct contact, but will not be permitted to play a 90-minute, 11-a-side fixture which, as suggested through scientific research, includes just 30-90 accumulated seconds of direct contact with another person.

A considerable number of players and officials I have spoken to in recent weeks are no longer sure whether they should laugh at the contradiction, or cry in frustration.

And when adults are allowed to return – currently set for 8 March – only 35 people will be allowed at each event (a last-minute increase from 30 before the public press conference on Friday, after it was highlighted to government officials that two teams of 11, plus three officials, two coaches and a slim-lined subs bench of three apiece totals 33).

Also, why now 35, when it was a maximum of 40 before Christmas? Who knows.

I am not attempting to place sport above retail, close-contact services or bars and restaurants in any ranking of social and economic contributors. Ultimately people’s livelihoods should be considered before pastimes.

Nevertheless, when it comes to mental health in particular, our pastimes are as important as any other activity or industry.

For many, they are the be-all and end-all.

Please, ministers, stop wafting sport away like it is an unpleasant smell.

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