By Jamila Cross, firstname.lastname@example.org
The ripple effect of COVID-19 is still being experienced in every corner of the world even with the rollout of vaccination drives in the developed world, and more slowly in the developing world.
In our local context, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on March 12, 2020; and on April 25, 2020, the public health ordinance, and the various regulations therein became a part of our everyday vernacular.
To date, the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has averted a major collapse in our healthcare system with the implementation, relaxation, and subsequent reinstatement of various COVID-19 specific regulations within ‘The Public Health Ordinance, CH 12 No. 4’.
Most recently on April 14, 2021, the government reinstated some of the previous regulations for an initial period of 21 days after a spike in cases.
Regulation 17 of the public health ordinance specifically states that a person shall not without reasonable justification ‘‘be found at any public place where the number of persons gathered, at any time, exceeds five; participate in any group contact sports; or participate in any team sports, except with the approval of the Minister’’.
There is an exemption clause however, that permits ‘‘athletic or sporting teams approved by the Minister who are in training or participating in contact of team sports, at the national or international level’’.
Let’s take a deep dive into the possible impact of COVID-19 on the local sporting ecosystem as athlete training, and competitions, are being postponed and cancelled, disrupting governing bodies, organisers, teams, and athletes.
Many of our national sporting organisations have grappled for years with the economics of successfully generating revenue to provide adequate technical support and preparation for athletes competing locally and internationally.
The outdated business models of depending exclusively on government subventions, and the same small pool of corporate sponsors to run leagues, and to ensure that our athletes can compete internationally has been a challenge for many years.
It is imperative that at some stage of the crisis, sport stakeholders start the conversation about new ways to deal with threats to financial and business continuity arising from disrupted cash flows, legal challenges, and possible impacts on longer-term support and engagement.
Potential impacts on the local sporting ecosystem
Clubs, sponsors, fans, governing bodies, athletes, suppliers can expect a ripple impact across organisation and strategic areas:
Disruption will push some organisations to transition to new operating models that they may have already been considering. Others will be forced to adapt—whether they’ve been planning to or not, whilst many will see this as an opportunity to transform.
COVID-19 has expedited use of technology in sport from athlete development, playback technology to analyse games in real time, new investments in digital, technological, and artificial intelligence services may be fast tracked.
The local ecosystem depends heavily on external resources for survival, greater interconnectivity with stakeholders in the sporting ecosystem should be supported and strengthened as traditional sponsors with shrinking budgets may feel the long-term effects of a protracted pandemic, and the implications of future changes in regulations, lockdowns, or possible collapse of certain sectors of the economy.
Postponement, and cancellation competitions looks set to radically alter the sports calendar over the coming years, with innovative changes to existing formats looking likely in a number of sports.
With a younger generation of potential athletes unable to have face-to-face contact, or restrictions on collective participation in sporting events, the opportunities for advancements in alternative forms of recreation, the burgeoning market of e-sports, and the changing face of athlete training and preparation may create new opportunities.
It is imperative that sporting bodies, and stakeholders in the sector use the ‘downtime’ to better plan for a future that, in both the short and long term, may not look anything like the past.
Would the pandemic allow organisations to reset the financial ecosystem that underpins their sport and create more resilience for the future? How do we maintain athlete and fan enthusiasm without access to live matches, changes in the sporting calendar, and an uncertain sporting future?
Is the lesson learnt the importance of educating our athletes on the importance of the marketing, and personal branding outside of their training and competition, so they become as Caribbean athletes more visible, and marketable to sustain themselves well after the end of their sporting careers?
On a lighter note, I have gained almost 20 pounds in one year as I have not been able to engage in my usual form of sport with the demands of work, caregiving, and familial responsibilities.
I have embarked on a 90-day, self-care challenge to ensure that my health and well-being remains a priority. I recognise that while I am by no means still a professional athlete, it is the small incremental steps we take on a daily basis that have the most impact on our lives.
While we consider our physical bodies, our mental health and psychosocial support is critical as the initial romanticism of remote work has all but vanished for many who have to manage work, home schooling, caregiving, and overall domestic responsibilities many times without the support of family, or friends. Some just miss the workplace banter, and daily social interactions.
Finally, we must pay even closer attention to our younger ones who have lost a year of social connection, birthdays, celebrations, co-curricular activities, and opportunities for the warmth of human connection.
I asked my nine-year-old son what is the first thing he would do when he returns to school—”I would spend all day playing with my friends!”.
Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.