Nicaragua jumps the gun
By Robert Ecksel on April 27, 2020
Human Rights Watch described Ortega’s decision as “reckless.” (Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas)
In a manner of speaking, live boxing is back. Does that mean that the sport of sports, warts, exclamation points, and all, is returning to “normal”? Not on your life.
Saturday night at Gimnasio Alexis Arguello in Managua, Nicaragua, boxing reappeared for the first time in over a month with an eight-fight card before a sparse crowd, in defiance of common sense and a global pandemic that has infected close to three million worldwide, with over 200,000 having died from COVID-19. But people are antsy, while lifestyles hang in the balance, so the show must go on, albeit with modifications.
Why Nicaragua, which Fight News has christened the “world boxing capital,” jumped the gun is a mystery. Maybe the country’s president is taking his cues from Donald Trump, Dana White, or Eddie Hearn. If so, God help the Nicaraguans. Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south have hundreds of confirmed coronavirus cases, while further south in Panama thousands have been stricken. But Nicaragua may have evaded the Angel of Death, with reportedly only a dozen cases and three deaths according to the NY Times, whose numbers come via the Nicaraguan government, led by Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary turned strongman who believes in power, but is wary of testing and what it might reveal.
For the intrepid fight fans in attendance, who were admitted free of charge, they encountered, after disinfecting their hands and shoes and having their temperature taken upon entering the arena, referees, judges, officials, the media, and even reigning WBA super flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez wearing face masks. The round card girls also wore face masks. Happily, all things being relative, none of them wore surgical gowns.
Nicaraguans initially took COVID-19 seriously. The government imposed social distancing restrictions, which lasted all of two weeks before the President decided to embrace the Swedish model in which living was deemed more important that life itself. The Nicaraguan Tourism Institute gave the go-ahead for 81 public events, including parades and carnivals. The almost 2 million disenfranchised students were allowed back to school. 170,000 state employees returned to work. Soccer and baseball leagues resumed play. And boxing is back, perhaps with a vengeance—which elicited concern from watchdogs and medical professionals.
Epidemiologist Álvaro Ramírez warned, “Popular celebrations, massive funerals, marches and similar activities increase the risk of multiple simultaneous outbreaks in the whole country. I still don’t understand what the government is betting on.”
Human Rights Watch described the Nicaragua government’s decisions as “reckless,” adding that its response to the coronavirus outbreak “blatantly contradict global health experts' advice and put people's health and lives at risk.”
Erika Guevara-Rosas of Amnesty International said “the government of President Daniel Ortega is flagrantly ignoring the recommendations of international human rights organizations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, putting at risk the health and lives of thousands of people in Nicaragua.
“It’s surprising that, after preventing and suppressing any form of social protest for the past two years, it (the government) is now promoting mass marches and gatherings, exposing the population to the pandemic.”
Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, who is also World Health Organization Regional Director of the Americas, said, “We have concerns for the lack of social distancing, the convening of mass gatherings. We have concerns about the testing, contact tracing, about the reporting of cases. We also are concerned about what we see as inadequate infection prevention and control.”
The promoter of Saturday’s event, former two-time champion Rosendo Álvarez, justified boxing’s premature return by telling the Associated Press, “Here we don’t fear the coronavirus, and there is no quarantine. The three deaths came from outside and nobody within the country has been contaminated.
“Nicaragua is a poor country and the boxers have to eat.”
So sit them down and feed them.