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Football Federation denied “training bubble” as debate continues over contact sports and competitions

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Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2021. 2:05 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Following last week’s debacle at the Banana Bank Lodge, the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) has been denied in its plans for a “training bubble” for players of the National Football Team ahead of World Cup qualification in March, as the ban on so-called “contact sports” continues under the COVID-19 quarantine regulations.

The Federation’s testing of players for the Jaguars was interrupted by Police, and the Ministry of Sports subsequently distanced itself from the exercise.

While considered, said Minister of Home Affairs, Kareem Musa, team training could not be allowed for this and other such sports at this time. “While each player may be allowed to train on their own, in terms of exercise and what have you, they are not allowed to play as a team, because that is a lot of contact [sports] and it’s not as though they are going to remain in a bubble, they do go home to their families; but there is nothing preventing them from traveling and taking part in the sporting event – it is just that we have to have that restriction continue for contact sports; if we do it for football, then we’d have to do it for basketball, and then we’d have to do it for rugby and what have you – we would be opening a can of worms at that point.”

The “bubble” as created for major sporting leagues worldwide, particularly the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) in the United States and Canada, typically involves sealing off players, coaches and others involved from their families at one large location – in the case of the former, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida – and limiting movement and conducting regular testing. The NBA reported no COVID-19 cases during its resumed season that ended in October; with the move back to regular arenas for the new season in December, a number of matches had to be postponed with the cropping up of cases affecting key players.

Notably, players of the Verdes Football Club were allowed to cross the border and train in Mexico for their preliminary match in the CONCACAF League last October, but they could not avoid catching COVID-19 in transit to the Dominican Republic and were forced to withdraw. The Federation, according to its president Sergio Chuc, had also hoped to stage the Opening and Closing Seasons of the Premier League of Belize (PLB) at Belmopan’s Isidoro Beaton Stadium without fans in a “bubble-like” environment.

Belize’s sporting calendar is set for more disruption, with annual traditions such as the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge in March and the Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic on Easter weekend staring down the barrel of cancellation or postponement.

Sports writer William Ysaguirre tried his best to persuade the panel that exception could be made for certain sports – athletics, cycling, canoeing – for competition.

But Solicitor General, Elisa Montalvo, intervened to say that the restriction, especially for competitions, is not just for contact or non-contact sports, it is also to avoid crowds gathering.

“You are allowed to run, you are allowed to exercise, you are allowed non-contact sports, but you will not be allowed to have them in competitive nature because of the gathering,” she explained.

Musa added that while Ysaguirre’s arguments were convincing, non-contact sports are limited to golf, table tennis, lawn tennis and similar sports. A self-described “huge” fan of volleyball, he said that too is defined as a sport with some contact, and so cannot be allowed beyond individual training.

The rule is players do not need to mask up but must limit contact and carry their masks to wear when finished.

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