Island teams, events look forward to next stage of re-opening

Premier John Horgan came to the podium Monday sporting a Victoria Shamrocks mask and in front of a backdrop showing players on a baseball diamond. 

The sporting images were appropriate as the province announced players, from youth to oldtimers, can get back on the fields, diamonds, floorboards and ice for games and practices in Step 2 of the provincial re-opening beginning today.

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“It’s safe to go to a movie with friends, but more importantly, do what we haven’t been able to do over the last year and that’s watch our local sports teams in action,” said Horgan.

“That is something I am very much looking forward to.”

So is Mike Chewpoy, head coach of the Victoria Mariners of the B.C. Premier Baseball League, which includes the Mariners, Victoria Eagles, Nanaimo Pirates and Parksville Royals.

“This news is exciting for us. It means there will be a BCPBL championship this year,” said Chewpoy.

Ironically, the announcements the premier made were too late for his beloved Shamrocks, whose Western Lacrosse Association season was cancelled due to prior uncertainty about the pandemic. But it was sweet news for other teams, including the Junior Shamrocks, who can now travel to the Lower Mainland to play.

“This is what we were hoping to hear and it means we can move forward with our Summer Showcase Series,” said Rod Wood, vice-president of the Junior Shamrocks and chairman of the B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League.

“We will be staging something this season to allow our players to play.”

The restriction on indoor gatherings, limited to 50 until Step 3 on July 1, will be put under pressure on several fronts, especially in the last few days of June.

“It’s critical to get people back into arenas,” said Wood.

“But you can barely run two full benches with a limit of 50 people.”

The pressure to allow for a leeway to June 29 is being felt most acutely for the Tokyo Olympics qualifying basketball tournament June 29 to July 4 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Organizers have asked for 10 percent spectator capacity. It doesn’t make sense to have no fans for the first two days of the tournament and then allow limited capacity for the final four days. Times Colonist legislature reporter Les Leyne asked provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about that Monday during the media briefing.

“I can’t confirm either of those [first two days and final four days scenarios] at the moment,” responded Henry.

“We are working with the organizers and our safe restart team that has been dealing with sports … and viaSport is looking at the proposal that they [organizers] have and we will be making some decisions with them on that in the near future.”

Horgan addressed the issue of fans returning to sports venues and said tolerance levels are personal and they vary: “Not everybody wants to get back to filled arenas and to watch the Canucks or go to a massive concert. But a lot of people do. And I think people will vote with their feet, quite frankly.”

The B.C. Lions and the CFL have announced a return date of Aug. 5. The Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, currently playing home games in Utah, are also looking to return to B.C. Place. Island-based Pacific FC and the pro soccer CPL are planning on going back to home stadiums, with fans, following a bubble opening portion of the season between June 26 to July 24 in Winnipeg. The BCHL and UVic, Camosun and VIU sports teams have announced re-opening plans for September and October with the WHL and NHL expected to soon.

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