Coping with COVID: Return to play formulas the next challenge for Ottawa sports organizations

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Ottawa sports fields remain largely vacant outside of limited small training due to the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo

By Charlie Pinkerton

Local sports clubs are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel with an adjusted return to training, though the path forward in a world with COVID-19 continues to provide plenty of bumps (as detailed in SportsOttawa.com’s May 13 web story).

Below are some snapshots of how various Ottawa sports groups have been impacted:

MARTIAL ARTS

The innate hands-on nature of mixed martial arts meant that trainers in Ottawa who spoke to the Ottawa Sportspage were generally discouraged about when they would be able to return to even somewhat normal instruction.

“Martial arts offers a unique form of education you cannot nd anywhere else,” said Matt Haché, owner of the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts. “The longer martial arts schools stay closed the longer we’re damaging something that’s a true gem to the community.”

(Read a more detailed story on the martial arts community at: https://sportsottawa.com/2020/06/18/ottawa-mma-instructors-facing-unique-fight-in-reopening-amid-covid-19/)

RECREATIONAL PLAY

For-fun leagues, too, have felt the hurt of the pandemic. Austin Perron, an organizer with the Capital City Ball Hockey League, said “not only are we all missing the spirit of the game, but this ‘pause’ has also affected our players’ physical health,” and “for many,” their mental health as well.

“With all that being said, our biggest fear is that players will not want to come back for health and safety reasons,” said Perron, who promised that return to play will be handled delicately, when it comes time.

SOCCER’S RETURN

For some sports organizations, that moment is now. But it presents a new set of challenges.

Mirroring the reopening process that have become commonplace across jurisdictions, Canada’s most-played youth sport will also return in a tiered way. Some Eastern Ontario clubs are now in Phase 1, the modified training period of the three-phase return. Players can train in groups while respecting physical distancing. Games aren’t allowed yet.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the players and for the coaches because they’re dying to get back out and play games,” said Paul Harris, the head coach at Ottawa South United (OSU).

Phase 2 of soccer’s return to play in Ontario allows for the introduction of small inter-club games (up to 7 versus 7). Exhibition play has to wait until Phase 3, which Ottawa clubs anticipate they may be allowed to enter partway through July.

Harris said that because clubs in the province will be advancing through phases at different paces that it has been difficult for clubs to plan for the summer ahead, particularly those that play at the top provincial level.

UNIVERSITIES

Canada’s top post-secondary level of competition is largely taking a different approach – one of extreme caution. On June 8, three of the four U Sports conferences – Atlantic, Ontario and Canada West – announced that fall sports would not be played this year.

“Even though we kind of felt (the fall cancellation) might happen, it was a rough day when it came out officially,” said Sue Hylland, the director of sports services at the University of Ottawa.

However, when Hylland spoke to the Sportspage in mid-June, only 13 of uOttawa’s 32 sports teams had had their season formally called off, because some of their teams play in the Quebec conference or other leagues, rather than Ontario. Gee-Gees women’s rugby, women’s hockey, women’s volleyball and swimming teams, at the time of publication, still had the promise of play ahead of them.

Hylland added that uOttawa was in the midst of planning how sports will safely return to campus as well.

“The campus is going to start to re-open at one point and we want to be there in line amongst a bunch of people to try to communicate that we would like the athletes back on campus, the teams to be back,” Hylland said. “And maybe we can show how it can be done.”

— with files from Dan Plouffe and David Agbaire

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