Fri | Oct 18, 2019

Hubert Lawrence | Danger from the skies

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Nickari Campbell (left) of Jamaica College tries to get by Christopher Matthews of Wolmer’s Boys’ School in a ISSA/Digicel Manning Cup game at Stadium East on Monday, September 16. The game was called off after five players were reportedly struck by lightning.
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It’s remarkable that there are some who question the decision to halt the Jamaica College (JC)-Wolmer’s ISSA/Digicel Manning Cup encounter, even though lightning struck five players in the 84th minute.

The reply to those persons is simple. Life is far more important.

Those inside New York’s Icahn Stadium on the night when the incomparable Usain Bolt set his first world record know what should have happened. On May 31, 2008, organisers of the Reebok Grand Prix got reports of lightning-tinged weather in the area. When it drew nigh, the organisers stopped the meet and cleared the competition area.

When the coast was clear, the meet resumed, and Bolt took over world sprinting in the early hours of June 1 with a 100-metre world record of 9.72 seconds.

A similar set of circumstances occurred this year at the Penn Relays. Weather delays twice forced athletes, coaches, officials and fans into the belly of the storied Franklin Field stadium for safety. In both cases, it was the right decision.

WEATHER MONITORING IS A MUST-HAVE

Given the events of the JC-Wolmer’s game on Monday, it is time for similar provisions to be adopted here for all outdoor sports and gatherings. Those who stage such events must be required to monitor the weather and to interrupt or abort the event if need be. Safety is king.

Thankfully, reports indicate that the boys are recovering from their ordeal and, hopefully, they will all be back at full health soon.

In this space, there has been the suggestion that the schoolboy football campaign is too tightly packed into a term that coincides with the rainy season. Accordingly, before the changes that downgraded the Ben Francis and Walker cups, the proposal was made to ease the Champions Trophy into the Easter term. If those matches were played in January under lights on Friday nights at venues like Jarrett Park, Catherine Hall and Sabina Park, the football season would be extended and eased.

ISSA does a great job facilitating the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup teams in the Christmas term, but the current schedule is bursting at the seams. Add postponements due to the usual October rains and timetable traffic jams are always likely.

Monday’s trouble makes things worse. The risk was too great and referee Karl Tyrell did the right thing. The danger to all present was paramount.

FUTURE SAFETY PLAN

In the future, when matches are played at the Stadium East field, a reasonable safety plan would see the teams, their fans and officials retreating to inner areas of the National Stadium. When the danger passes, the referee could rule on a restart. With five boys down and everyone present at risk on Monday, that option did not exist.

ISSA acted quickly when heart-related problems struck down a St George’s College footballer and a Spot Valley basketballer a few years ago. Now preseason heart screening is normal and thanks to donors like Team Jamaica Bickle, defibrillators have been distributed to many schools.

Such decisive action is needed again. An alliance must immediately be made with the weather-monitoring services to advise planners of outdoor events, not just ISSA, of danger. Then it must become a requirement that interruptions be automatic if public safety is threatened.

Such regulations exist elsewhere and modifying them for the Jamaican context will be straightforward. Given that this is hurricane season here in the land of wood, water and lightning, there is no time to waste. If they already exist here, they must be brought in service quickly.

Hubert Lawrence has managed special events, including the National Hurdles and Field Events Championships.