The complexities of executing sporting events in a global pandemic were illustrated Sunday when Canada's World Cup qualifier against the Cayman Islands was pushed back a day to Monday.
At issue were the pre-match COVID-19 tests taken by the Cayman Islands delegation, which did not meet FIFA requirements.
It appears the Caymans delegation did its best but was foiled by a plane ride from hell as it tried to get to Florida from Suriname, where it lost 3-0 on Wednesday in the capital of Paramaribo.
Alfredo Whittaker, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, said his team missed its scheduled testing upon arrival because of travel issues.
The team's charter was originally scheduled to arrive at a private airport in Sarasota, only to be turned away by U.S. Customs. The plane was diverted to Miami but, as it was about to descend, the pilot was told he could not land because it was not a scheduled flight. The plane eventually landed in Tampa with the team not getting to its hotel until 1:30 a.m. local time Friday.
The delegation underwent a rapid antigen test, which detects protein fragments specific to COVID-19. While the rapid test can deliver results in as quick as 15 minutes, the results are not always accurate.
FIFA requires a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test which is considered the gold standard in testing for the virus. It involves a lab testing a sample typically collected using a swab inserted into a person’s nose or throat. Turnaround time for the PCR test is longer.
"We did a rapid test because there was no lab around the area that would give us results until Monday or Tuesday," Whittaker said. "But miraculously we managed to get that lab that was originally closed on Saturday and Sunday to open for us (Sunday)."
The results are expected to be ready between 2 and 3 p.m. ET Monday, ahead of the 6 p.m. kickoff at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
News of the one-day postponement came out Sunday in brief releases from Canada Soccer and FIFA in the hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. kickoff. The decision to delay the match was made "to ensure the safety of all participants in the match," according to FIFA.
Whittaker said Canada Soccer had been "very understanding."
"We're living in difficult times. These are requirements and we respect requirements," he added.
Whittaker noted the Caymans have been pretty much COVID-free.
According to the Cayman Islands government website, the country had 487 confirmed cases of COVID and two deaths as of Friday. The four most recent cases were tourists, who tested positive following routine screening.
As of Friday, 28,861 (44 per cent of the estimated population) had received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, with 26 per cent having completed the two-dose course.
The Canadian team was still at its hotel in nearby Sarasota when it got news of the problem Sunday. Canada coach John Herdman said his squad took news of the postponement in stride, after some initial "disappointment, shock."
"I think we're used to the many ups and downs that this world keeps throwing at us," Herdman said in a video posted by Canada Soccer.
"If anything we'll look at the positives which are more recovery, more regen time for those players that played on Thursday," he added.
Herdman said he pulled his team's leadership group together in wake of the news. The decision was made to go ahead and hold a "light, bright" training session Sunday.
"We just turn the page and (Monday) will be the big day for us."
Canada Soccer said teams are required to provide FIFA with negative COVID-19 PCR test results for all players and staff taken no earlier than 72 hours before accessing the venue. Without the test results, teams can't access the stadium.
Canada Soccer said it had "engaged a laboratory to be on-site with the team to conduct its testing" and that all of its players and staff had received negative testing before arriving and while in camp in Florida.
Sunday's game was officially a home game for the Caymans. But the three-island group has the same 14-day quarantine as Canada so opted to shift the site to Bradenton.
The current FIFA international window runs through Tuesday for CONCACAF teams. But the delay in the Caymans game means extending whatever quarantines are in place at the other end when player return home.
Canada captain Atiba Hutchinson left Friday to return to his club team Besiktas in Turkey as part of an apparent prearranged deal.
The Canadian men are ranked 73rd in the world, 120 places above the Cayman part-timers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press