You win, Covid: BFA calls end to domestic season
After almost four months without a ball being kicked in earnest, the Bermuda Football Association has called a halt to the 2020-21 domestic season.
The decision was communicated to the governing body’s club affiliates via a special virtual meeting last night, independent sources have confirmed to The Royal Gazette, with “health concerns” given as the primary reason.
The BFA did not respond to a request for comment on the cancellation.
Football on island has been suspended since the first week of December when the island experienced a dramatic spike in Covid-19 cases, which resulted in the death toll increasing from nine to 12.
There had been fleeting hope of a return to competitive action in late January when the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport launched a four-stage Return to Play guideline document.
More than half of the season had still to be completed, with league action originally scheduled to end with the FA Cup final on April 20. There had been talk about extending the season into May to reach completion, with an emphasis on league matches.
However, movement between the stages has been static, with only one sport fully in compliance, prompting sports minister Ernest Peets to issue a “no test, no play” edict.
Then, last Monday, the pressure to do something increased after the Bermuda football team returned from a weeklong training camp in Florida in preparation for World Cup qualifying matches this month, and at least one player from the 28-member travelling party tested positive for Covid-19.
The BFA belatedly released a statement yesterday that declared the World Cup qualifier against Aruba on March 30 had been moved from the National Sports Centre to the IMG Academy Complex in Bradenton, Florida.
The reasons given were to “minimise travel fatigue, possible exposure to the virus, and any health restrictions that may be imposed if the team were to travel back to Bermuda following the match versus Canada”.
The decision means that Kyle Lightbourne’s side will play both their opening group matches in the Sunshine State — against Canada at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando on March 25 and five days later against Aruba at the same facility where Bermuda just held a training camp that included two friendly fixtures against Bahamas.
Bermuda’s other matches in the group are scheduled for June 4 at home to Surinam and June 8 away to Cayman Islands, although it is too early to say if they also will be caught up in the Covid vortex.
The Royal Gazette broke the news on Friday that members of the training camp, many of whom were fringe or development players, tested positive for Covid-19.
In its first communication since those revelations, the governing body said: “The BFA is aware of the speculation surrounding the status of the national team since their return to the island. It is accepted policy that there would be no comment of any kind on individual health circumstances or provide any information that could lead to disclosing personal information. We can confirm the team delegation is currently adhering to the established public-health quarantine guidelines.”
Reliable sources confirmed that the positive cases came as a result of tests done on passengers at LF Wade International Airport after the arrival of the flight from Miami.
The Bermuda Government said last Wednesday that, of the seven confirmed new cases from 652 test results, “four are classified as imported by residents who arrived on American Airlines AA308 from Miami”.
That raised concerns regarding the possible availability of those involved in the training camp for the upcoming qualifiers should they be named in Lightbourne’s squad.
However, even with a mandatory 14-day period of quarantine starting on March 8, any of those players involved in the training camp could be in theory cleared to travel for the qualifiers, if selected, with a BFA spokesman confirming yesterday that Bermuda were always scheduled to depart on March 22, in compliance with competition regulations.
The travelling squad will also have to undergo pre-departure protocols before re-entering the United States.
The cancellation of the domestic season is not expected to affect the many youth programmes that are already under way, while those competitions that have reached their conclusions will be deemed official.
Robin Hood, who had reason to take umbrage that the 2020 FA Cup final against North Village was never played after the previous season was belatedly abandoned, will feel equally aggrieved this time around because they held a commanding five-point lead in the Premier Division with a game in hand.
In the First Division, Hamilton Parish and Young Men’s Social Club were the clear front-runners for promotion when play was discontinued.