New vaccine timeline a shot in the arm for B.C. summer sports

Premier John Horgan, perhaps symbolically, wore a B.C. Lions mask to and from the podium of the vaccine rollout media conference Monday.

Politicians rarely do anything without design. So it could have been his way of epic foreshadowing. Summer-to-fall sports, CFL included, may have been thrown a touchdown pass with the announcement that every British Columbian who wants a vaccine first dose can have one by July.

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“It certainly gives a ray of hope that we will be able to play,” said Victoria Shamrocks GM Chris Welch, whose Western Lacrosse Association opener is scheduled for June 25 at the Q Centre.

“It would be a big hurdle overcome. Having a second consecutive season cancelled is not appealing to anybody.”

Fall sports, meanwhile, grew even more confident of approaching a normal start to the 2021-22 WHL, BCHL, U Sports Canada West and PacWest colleges seasons, not to mention the Royal Victoria Marathon on Oct. 10.

Winter and spring sports in 2021, however, remain problematic. There will be no Canada Sevens women’s rugby tournament to host in May at Westhills Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics-bound Team Canada. The spring exception are the Victoria Royals and the rest of the B.C. Division of the WHL, who were given the OK to play by the provincial government beginning March 26. The BCHL is expected to know its spring-season fate today.

Those in B.C. summer sports, however, are signalling strong optimism with the mounting evidence across the world that one dose of the vaccine is proving highly effective.

“Let’s look to July when we can have the vast majority of British Columbians immunized and we can carry on with our lives,” said Horgan.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was equally as emphatic this week and said first doses could be in all willing B.C. arms even by the end of June.

She used a sports metaphor: “We are now in those final miles of this marathon. There’s an end-point in sight. And it is weeks and months, not something that is nebulous grey next year or maybe.”

The pro-soccer CPL, which includes Island-based Pacific FC, has set the Victoria Day long weekend, May 22-24, for the start of its campaign, which would run to October.

“The summer timeline is amazing and indicates this nightmare is coming to an end,” said Rob Friend, general manager and CEO of Pacific FC.

“It’s massive news for sports and live events. Being able to attend their local teams’ games is one of the main things that will make people feel normal again.”

Also affected positively would be two notable one-off events scheduled for 2021 — the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament, June 29 to July 4 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, with the winner advancing to the Tokyo Olympic Games beginning July 23 and the Canadian Little League baseball championship, Aug. 5-14, at Layritz Park with the winner advancing to the Little League World Series.

Whether fans will be allowed into venues remains the question. But just the certainty of being able to play will be a plus, said Friend. “We were prepared for the worst and ready to take it on the chin this year, so anything beyond that in terms of games or fans is a bonus,” said the 32-time Canada capped former Bundesliga professional. “We were on hold. Now we can button up our schedule.”

PFC, however, must also deal with the health guidelines in other provinces in the Canada-wide CPL.

The Victoria HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwls of the West Coast League of baseball — which has teams in Canada and Washington state and Oregon — have the added possible impediment of the closed Canada-U.S. border. The status of the border will be monitored by the WCL as it looks to its start date in June. The league had to be heartened this week by U.S. President Joe Biden saying there will be enough vaccine for every American by the end of May.

Another issue is that the gate-driven Shamrocks and HarbourCats and Night Owls said they cannot financially survive playing without paying fans. The expansion Kamloops NorthPaws of the WCL told Kamloops This Week the club would have to postpone its inaugural season to 2022 if it wasn’t allowed at least one-third capacity for this summer. Several jurisdictions around the world, are starting to allow partially filled sports ­venues.

“We remain hopeful,” said Jim Swanson, GM and managing partner of the HarbourCats and expansion Night Owls.

“We can certainly make room for fans safely spaced. Outdoor venues [such as Royal Athletic Park and Serauxmen Stadium] are less of a challenge than indoor arenas.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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