Sports minister Ernest Peets unveils four-stage plan for competitive return
Ernest Peets, the new Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, reiterated his desire to having sport return in the coming weeks, but only with strict Covid-19 guidelines being observed.
The Government managed to curb a recent spike in positive Covid-19 cases, which forced the health department to impose tougher restrictions and resulted in sporting activities being halted in early December.
Yesterday, an easing of restrictions to permit gatherings to be increased from a maximum of ten to 25 moved the four-stage process to stage two, which is allowing teams to return to full training.
“Yesterday, we had some encouraging news from the Ministry of Health that there were zero positive Covid infections,” said Renée Ming, the Minister of National Security, in the dual press conference.
“After a terrible outbreak of the coronavirus in our community last November, we are now seeing the benefits of the implementation of the necessary restrictions that were put in place just before the holidays.
“The compliance of the community is why we are starting to see the lower numbers of infections, and it is thanks to these collective efforts that we can make these modifications to the regulations.”
In phase two, safety protocols must still be observed, such as six feet apart and the wearing of masks before activity. Also there must be no physical contact and no spectators will be allowed at the training sessions.
In phase four — “Return to Play” — fans will be permitted at sporting events, although the maximum number is still to be determined by the health department, Peets emphasised.
“I want to state that this government and my ministry are deeply committed to sport,” he said.
“Sport is considered one of the bedrocks of our community and we fully recognise and embrace the critical role that sports plays for the social, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of all Bermudians.
“Likewise, we understand that the necessary restrictions and limits imposed by Covid-19 have dealt a significant blow to the sporting community and we certainly appreciate everyone’s patience, everyone’s collaboration as we battle through this pandemic to keep our people and our economy safe and open.”
The sports minister added: “Indeed, by all measures we are performing significantly better than most jurisdictions and we have much to be proud of in this regard. The collaboration of the supporting community and the national sporting governing bodies have been essential to our success.
“During these difficult times most of us would understand that our normal activities have been curtailed or suspended due to Covid-19. This includes our recreational sporting activities and our national sporting events.
“Sport creates outlets for stress and anxiety, which is important for our overall wellbeing. Admittedly, we have missed the routine of attending and engaging in regularly scheduled sporting activities during this time.
“Today I can tell you that the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport has released the Return to Play guidance to enable the safe and gradual resumption of local sporting activities.
“The Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of National Security and the Association of National Sports Governing Bodies has created a phased Return to Play guidance for sports as a way to assist in safely resuming these national activities.”
The stages are:
• 1, Non-competitive training for exercise and technical development
• 2, Team training with restrictions
• 3, Competitive training to prepare for competition
• 4, Return to play
Peets revealed that moving through the stages will be guided by the Ministry of Health, determined by the Cabinet and announced on the Government’s Covid-19 webpage.
“We all know that athletes are used to following the rules and having to follow those rules are an important part of the progress we have enjoyed thus far,” he said.
“Adhering to the guidance for this group will allow us to safely proceed to competitive play in the not to distant future.
“With no positive cases indicated yesterday, I would suggest these strategies are working. I’m really encouraging everyone to keep doing what we’re doing so that we can get back to play as quickly as possible.”
Peets could not “put a date on the calendar” as to when sports may return to full schedules. “Trust me, I wish I could, but such a date cannot be predicted,” he said.
“I can tell you we are closer today than we were before and we are trending in the right direction. If we continue to trend with our Covid response, we could move into the next phase in two weeks, and if that continues perhaps, to stage four.
“But that all depends on how we’re handling the pandemic as a country.”
Football is one of those sports that is awaiting the referee’s whistle to signal the start of play, after no matches for six weeks. Peets said discussions have been held with the Bermuda Football Association, and that the intention in the guidance is to have fans back at the grounds when play resumes.
“Of course, that [numbers] depends on the venue and where we are with Covid,” he said.
“That would be a great day, to hear the whistle blow and see sports resuming on the field of play and fans back in the stands.”