Athletes must always stay active to maintain that competitive edge, says North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) President Mike Sands, and one of the ways of doing that is by taking part in as many meets as possible during the calendar year.
However, 2020 has been like none other. Not since the Spanish Flu of 1918, has a major pandemic hit the world, forcing a stoppage of sports across the globe. The Bahamian leader of one of just six area associations in World Athletics said that it is imperative that track and field athletes get back to competition as soon as possible, while still respecting the health and safety measures in place because of COVID-19.
A compacted Diamond League schedule is set to continue next month, but already, the Olympics has been pushed to 2021, and other major meets and events have either been postponed or cancelled. A number of national championships have been cancelled as well.
“When I took over this wonderful body, this storm was not on the [radar]. We had to quickly adapt to find ways of managing it,” Sands told World Athletics. “A percentage of our membership has been able to resume active training now that their respective countries have started lifting their restrictions, so the process is starting to unfold gradually, but many of our athletes attend colleges and universities in the United States, so their training is directly affected because the university system is completely shut. There are some universities that are talking about extending the eligibility of their athletes, so that’s a plus for them.”
The region has taken a massive hit from COVID-19, particularly the closest nation to the Northern Bahamas, the United States of America (USA). The US is the most impacted nation in the world with about four million cases and nearly 150,000 deaths. Worldwide, there are about 15 million cases and over 600,000 deaths.
For the most past, staff at the NACAC office have been working from home in their respective countries. Be that as it may, a number of programs of NACAC are ongoing such as virtual coaching courses, in English and Spanish, via Zoom, YouTube and Facebook.
“The pandemic forced us to jumpstart our plans, simply because people are very keen for things to happen,” Sands told World Athletics. “We’ve been very fortunate and very impressed with the support and attendance. Some of the numbers are mind-boggling.”
Additionally, NACAC established a number of commissions to assist with the day-to-day running of the regional body, each assigned with separate tasks. Of utmost importance, is the medical commission in the face of what is going on with COVID-19. The pandemic, itself, has altered a number of plans, but one item that they have all agreed on, and would like to see brought to fruition, is a regional circuit featuring the best athletes from NACAC, and even others from around the world. One such meet that he would like to be brought on stream is a regional encounter, tentatively set for September 26, dubbed the ‘New Life Invitational’.
“We’re still holding on to a glimmer of hope that we’ll be able to stage it, but it is all dependent on what the restrictions are in the various member federations,” he said. “We canvassed the member federations, coaches and athlete representatives and a lot of them are anxious for competition. We hope that we’re able to pull it off in some shape or form.”
Traveling from country to country is expected to present a major roadblock in a successful staging of the meet.
“Transportation is a huge challenge for many in this area, so we have to address it in some way, shape or form,” said Sands. “We’re about to make an official request at a higher level to see what kind of support we can get for our athletes throughout the region.”
Locally, here in The Bahamas, sports is still at a standstill. The Bahamas was into phase five of the reopening of the economy plan, but a second wave of the coronavirus hit when the borders were opened to international travel. Since that time, in less than three weeks, a total of 70 cases of COVID-19 surfaced – nearly half of the country’s total number of 174. The death toll remains at 11.
The pandemic is far from over.
“This has given us an appreciation for the way things used to be,” said Sands. “We cannot take things for granted. We need to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.”
Sands has now sit in the chair of president of NACAC for a little over a year. He said he is looking forward to the remainder of the four-year term, but more notably, the day when track and field, and sports on the whole, would be able to return with some degree of normalcy.