Cup Match 2020? Risks far outweigh the rewards
There is no known vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, and it is not expected that there will be one universally accepted before the end of 2020.
Bermuda by then will have long emerged from the phased reopening of our economy, emphasised by the return of commercial air traffic as tourism attempts to salvage what it can of a worst-case scenario of a year.
But Covid-19 will still be here in some shape or form in 2021 — even if our real-time reproduction rate of infection continues its encouraging existing path towards a seven-day average of nothingness.
Most learned scientists, and our overworked but “underpaid” leaders, acknowledge this.
So on to the elephant in the room: when do we pull the plug on Cup Match, as we inevitably must?
Any number of recent government press conferences to update the country on matters related to Covid-19 have tiptoed around the idea of Cup Match joining the numerous sporting and cultural events that have been postponed or cancelled because of this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
We’ve lost MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda, the Carifta Games, the conclusion of the domestic football season — including the showpiece FA Cup Final — the Bermuda Day Half-Marathon Derby and Bermuda Carnival, whose pièce de résistance, the Parade of Bands, was meant to be taking place a week today.
With the exception of football and Carnival, sensibly decisive action was taken well in advance, in particular after the Bermuda Government outlined its phased approach on April 29 that precluded gatherings of 50 or more throughout.
On Thursday we head into Phase 3, which, if what has gone before holds true, will not end until June 25. That means the island may emerge from the four phases no sooner than July 9.
Which means that, if the green light is given for Cup Match and intimate non-mask-wearing gatherings of 7,000 or more on successive days at a compact Somerset Cricket Club are acceptable, the warring clubs would have a mere 16 days to select their sides for the Annual Classic on July 30 and 31.
It all seems a bit fanciful, yet no one has peered into the looking glass to see if this is at all doable within such a tight time frame.
It is not!
Not if you plan to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
Cup Match is big business and either club will tell you that preparing to host it, let alone getting players match-fit for 18 hours of giving it their all in 90F heat, cannot be done inside 16 days.
The logistical demands are innumerable.
As an example, this week should be when Somerset CC finalises the selling of plots around the ground — for historical users and those who wish to purchase a viewing plot for the first time.
With all the uncertainty, that process cannot possibly have started, let alone come near to its fruition.
Why David Burt has not tackled this as of yet is understandable. Who wants to be the Premier that cancels Cup Match?
Besides, he has had more pressing issues to contend with. But, one by one, he and his government are ticking off those boxes.
And now, pressingly so, this is a box that needs to be ticked off, too.
The cricket season was meant to start late April, early May — that’s how far our national sport is behind. What is in train right now is a cheeky proposal to the Government for a return to play next month, with certain restrictions.
Now, we know league cricket is not Cup Match or not even remotely Eastern Counties — both events that the Bermuda Cricket Board oddly has no authority over — but sports clubs are not scheduled to reopen until Phase 4 and even then the gatherings are meant to be restricted to 50 or fewer.
The Department of Health will be taking a big chance just to approve league cricket getting up and running again — the kind of cricket that is watched by few among the multitudes of Cup Match and Eastern Counties revellers.
With emphasis on revellers rather than actual supporters of cricket.
So who will it be to drop the hammer blow?
Mr Burt, health minister Kim Wilson or Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Covid-19 sub-committee maestro, who holds Somerset CC especially close to his heart?
We know who it almost certainly will not be: Lovitta Foggo, the freshly redesignated Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, whose absenting from labour in favour of Jason Hayward in the Cabinet reshuffle last week — after a largely unconvincing performance amid this pandemic — was more predictable than Curtis Dickinson taking on the finance portfolio so soon after his own by-election victory.
Whoever it is, the deed has to be done because there is no way a government that has been so cautious with this virus thus far should be willing to give licence to the equivalent of a superspreading event.
Which is exactly what Cup Match is, with fans stacked on top of one another and walkways all around the ground that are tighter than a duck’s behind.
Again, the most vulnerable to this virus in our community are our seniors, and it is they who flock to Cup Match by the hundreds.
The risk of a spike arising out of such reckless endangerment is far greater than the reward.
It is a decision that should have been taken already. Eastern Counties, too. For, let’s not forget that its first round is scheduled two weeks before Cup Match — or nine days after likely emergence from the phases.
This year’s county matches are scheduled to be held at Bailey’s Bay, which does not have near the capacity to execute physical-distancing as could be found at St David’s.
So, not a great idea to be looking to host crowds of up to 3,000 while the country is in its third state of emergency — on the presumption that Royal Assent will be sought from the Governor for the month of July not long after the Cabinet meets on June 23.
Knowing how precarious both of these big events are, the silence coming from their administrators has been deafening. Barely a murmur.
What are they waiting for?
Football’s head-in-the-sand example showed precisely what not to do. Having declared May 31 as its cut-off date before the phases were announced, and having not played since March 15, the Bermuda Football Association waited until May 27 to call the season off.
Why the interminable wait, when it was clear contact sport would not be allowed anytime before the end of June, let alone May?
Cricket has a chance to do better, but time is running out and fast.
There are few in Mr Burt’s Cabinet, if any, who are an authority on sport — least of all the sports minister — but they should not be waiting on administrators to make a call when all evidence heretofore has been dripping with self-interest.
If we are concerned for the health of the nation and wish to see Covid-19 through with no further loss of life, there is only one decision to be made — and that could be announced as early as tonight.
If not, prepare for another pronouncement from national security minister Wayne Caines along the lines of “You lot are not taking this seriously!” Because that is precisely what will happen if Cup Match is allowed to proceed under the absurd illusion that physical-distancing and mask-wearing will be observed.
Quite different from the overwhelming success of the Black Lives Matter march yesterday in Hamilton where as many 7,000 wearing face masks came together for a cause that was worth taking a chance for.
As a one-off.
But Cup Match? Comparatively sedentary for long periods and where hundreds can be found cheek-to-cheek under Crown and Anchor tents allowing any hint of a virus to fester?
There is sympathy to be had for the host clubs, who rely on these revenues in Cup Match year to have any chance of turning a profit. And maybe the Government can assist to offset some of their losses.
Those are negotiations to be had another day.
Today, the only sensible answer is for Cup Match 2020 to finally accept defeat and for Somerset to prepare to play host next year, while the Eastern Counties wakes out of its slumber and delays the 2020 series until as late in the year as is feasible.
To take leave of our senses now would be to risk undoing much of the good work the Government has done in this crisis.
With deathly consequences.
• UPDATE: this editorial has been amended to remove incorrect information pertaining to the Bermuda Football Association, with due apologies
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