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Kyle Lightbourne’s Covid-19 Catch-22

Hands tied: Kyle Lightbourne has conceded his preparations for the opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers are being hampered by the ongoing affects of Covid-19 (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Kyle Lightbourne has conceded he may be forced to name an entirely locally based squad for Bermuda’s opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers as Covid-19 restrictions continue to dictate preparations.

Bermuda, who were meant to begin qualifying in October but had been delayed by the global pandemic, will now begin their campaign with a match away to group B favourites Canada on March 25. That will be followed five days later by a match against Aruba at the National Sports Centre on March 30.

However, because of the ever-changing effects of Covid-19, Lightbourne admitted he remains in the dark as to what restrictions will be in place come March, including issues surrounding quarantine periods for overseas-based players travelling between nations.

“The situation keeps changing all of the time; all I can do is focus on my main priority, which is getting a team ready for that first match against Canada,” said the coach, whose side will also face Surinam and Cayman Islands in group B.

“I have no idea as yet if I’ll be able to call upon the players based overseas and so I have to get as many players together on island and get them up to speed as much as I can with the level of international football.

“The restrictions in place at the moment and particularly in Canada, who have some of the strictest quarantine restrictions, don’t help at all, especially as it means I might not be able to call upon a full-strength squad.

“It could mean that the majority of the unit that did so well in the Gold Cup and Nations League are not available; we can only do what we can.”

As well as the issues of travelling to Canada, Lightbourne is also aware that the recent spike of positives cases on island could result in stricter travel restrictions in Bermuda, preventing some players travelling home in the first place, let alone featuring in the opener or against Aruba.

“At the moment, I think the [Bermuda Football] Association and the Government are in discussions about if we are able to bring players back from abroad and what the quarantine period could be,” he added. “The issue is that for some of our players, it just might not be viable to travel at all.

“As well as clubs probably not wanting players to have to go away and risk themselves, it’s also tough to have to ask players to travel and quarantine before playing and then maybe having to quarantine again back in the countries they are based in.

“If that was the case when I was a player, I wouldn’t want to do it and I wouldn’t be surprised if the guys now don’t. You’re messing about with their livelihoods and it’s not a fair position to be in.

“It’s a difficult situation for everyone and, really, I think more discussions need to be held to talk everything through quickly.”

With the possibility of being without the likes of talisman Nahki Wells, as well as non-League contingent Dale Eve, Justin Donawa, Milan Butterfield and Reggie Lambe, Lightbourne spoke of the monumental task facing a locally based squad, who for some would be thrust into the international spotlight against one of the region’s powerhouses.

“It would be an incredibly tough ask for some of the locally based players,” he added. "Not only are you asking them to step up to an international level, but they’d be facing a team like Canada.

“The last thing I’d want to do is throw them into a situation like that because it’s not fair to expect them to go away and get any sort of result against Canada in what could be their first taste of international football.

“I know Canada will be in a similar situation to us where they may not be able to utilise their best players, but they have a much greater pool of players to choose from.”

Lightbourne previously backed the original decision for the matches to be postponed and while he is frustrated by the present situation, he also sympathises with Fifa, the world governing body, which is facing a logistical nightmare in concluding the qualification process ahead of the tournament scheduled for November 2022 in Qatar.

“It’s a really difficult situation because I know Fifa have to squeeze everything in and can’t really afford any more delays or setbacks with tournaments approaching,” he said. “Unfortunately we are being dictated to by Covid and it isn’t allowing anyone to prepare properly. There is very little we can do but wait to see how things develop in the coming months.”

Turning his attention back to the opening fixtures, Lightbourne conceded the squad may not be afforded any real preparation, including his hope for two friendlies before March, with the fear of further restrictions being implemented.

That could also include the threat of the domestic season being suspended indefinitely, with action already being halted until at least December 22 owing to the rise in cases on island.

“Any real chance of preparing ahead of the matches could be out the window,” added Lightbourne, whose side have not featured since a 2-0 friendly defeat away to Jamaica in March.

“If the positive cases keep creeping up, then who knows what restrictions there might be in place. If the rest of the season was to be affected further, or even worse suspended altogether, it would be a total disaster.

“I’d like to have two friendlies ahead of the Canada match and ideally against teams as close to their level as possible.

“It would be outside the international window but we desperately need some game time in before we face them.

“However, there are still some big issues to iron out before that and hopefully things will become a little clearer at the beginning of next year.”

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Published December 08, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 07, 2020 at 10:28 pm)

Kyle Lightbourne’s Covid-19 Catch-22

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