Historic cancellation of Cup Match
Cup Match organisers bowed to the inevitable yesterday in cancelling the Annual Classic for the first time in its 118-year history.
Since the most popular sporting event in Bermuda was founded, it has carried on regardless despite the imposing presence of Spanish flu and two world wars — but the tsunami that has been the novel coronavirus ultimately proved too much to resist.
Cup Match, which was scheduled for July 30 and 31 at Somerset Cricket Club, only three weeks after the island is meant to emerge from a four-phased reopening of the economy, joins a host of sporting and cultural events that have been swept away in the wake of Covid-19.
The decision was taken by cup-holders Somerset after an executive meeting on Tuesday night that brought to an end weeks of anxiety.
“After much deliberation, it has been concluded that the health and safety of spectators, club officials and players is of greatest significance during these uncertain and unprecedented times,” Vashun Blanchette, the Somerset president, said in a joint statement with his St George's counterpart, Neil Paynter.
Mr Blanchette added: “It was a difficult decision from an emotional perspective given the history behind Cup Match and what the event means to the people of Bermuda.
“Ultimately, however, it was the correct choice given the uncertain times and public health concerns.”
The news came 48 hours after the Eastern Counties Cricket Association pulled the plug on county cup for 2020, the other of the two midsummer cricket events that draw spectators by the thousands.
David Burt, the Premier and a staunch Somerset supporter, said: “Obviously, I am personally disappointed in the announcement made about Cup Match.”
Mr Burt said: “This pandemic has robbed us of many things we hold dear, but innovation is the order of the day and my hope is that the clubs are open to a discussion about how to mark this signature event even without the traditional crowds and festivities.”
He added: “Emancipation and all that the holiday represents to Bermuda will still be observed.”
The Bermuda Government announced its reopening strategy on April 29, when it first appeared Cup Match would struggle to proceed as scheduled.
The domestic cricket season has yet to start and among the concerns were the players' state of readiness had Cup Match won an unexpected reprieve.
Mr Blanchette defended the clubs' decision to delay while considering all options. “We felt it necessary to take all things into consideration given the significance of the event, while being mindful of the uncertainties that still exist,” he said.
“Cup Match is steeped in history, having been played annually since 1902 and for more than 40 years before receiving recognition as an official national holiday.
“Cup Match is also a time for families and friends to unite and enjoy the best of our traditions. In the current climate, it also represented the last beacon of hope in an otherwise unfortunate year thus far, both globally and in Bermuda.
“For these reasons, we gave ourselves as much time as possible to make an informed decision. Even as the chances of Cup Match, as we know it, became increasingly unlikely, we felt compelled to exhaust all avenues.”
The options discussed included playing behind closed doors with no spectators, limited attendance with televised coverage or playing at a later date without the benefit of back-to-back national holidays.
Mr Blanchette said: “Ultimately, there were still uncertainties with these considerations, including the health of all parties — eg, players, officials and personnel — required to be involved.”
He added that members who had paid for a viewing plot would be reimbursed soon.
“These monies will be refunded in full no later than June 19,” he said.
When the Eastern Counties announced its cancellation on Monday, it confirmed that Bailey's Bay Cricket Club would retain its rights as host in 2021, but no such magnanimity presides at the Cup Match clubs.
“As it stands, the match is due to played at Wellington Oval in 2021,” Mr Paynter said, rather pointedly.
Mr Blanchette responded: “There is no agreement as yet, but both clubs will discuss this matter in due course and arrive at a decision that best serves the interests of Cup Match.”
While there is no cricket to watch, or bragging rights to put to the test, the Somerset president insists the public remember the reason for the season.
“The Cup Match classic is one of the most festive times of the year and we encourage all fans of Cup Match to celebrate the two days with friends and family while reflecting on its origins and adhering to any mandated health guidelines,” Mr Blanchette said.
“Somerset and St George's wish to acknowledge the endeavours of all government officials and essential workers over the past few months, and highlight the collective spirit of Bermudians and our international residents during these times.”