Officials digest reopening guidelines for B.C. sports

There is a plan for balls, pucks and shuttlecocks to be passed or hit again during organized practices across B.C.

The province released its Return to Sport Guidelines this week after a review by WorkSafe B.C. and viaSport.

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The first Island team back to practice Monday was Pacific FC of the pro soccer Canadian Premier League.

The plan applies from the pro and Olympian training levels down to youth, grassroots and recreational organizations.

The main guidelines concern maintaining physical distance, minimal sharing of equipment, focusing on skill development in small-group training and staying local for the moment.

“Sport organizations will play a key role in bringing people back together and in helping us heal from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lisa Beare, the B.C. minister of tourism, arts and culture, who is responsible for sport.

“We know the importance of safely reopening our ice rinks, courts and fields so athletes, families, coaches and volunteers can return to sport.”

Island sports officials spent Tuesday digesting the reopening guidelines, which were released late Monday.

“Sport has the power to play a significant role in the recovery of the province from the pandemic,” said viaSport CEO Charlene Krepiakevich.

National and local organizations and individual leagues are also devising their own detailed sport-specific plans. A return for rowing will be much different than a return for basketball. For instance, Canada Soccer and B.C. soccer have both released return-to-play plans.

“These are just the first steps in a long way back to what we remember,” said Andrew Latham, head coach of the Lower Island Soccer Association.

“The [B.C. protocols] call for mostly individual stuff right now in small groups. There is no one-on-one. It’s glorified warm-ups.”

A lot of questions are still hanging in the spring air.

“Will municipalities allow us back on the fields?” said Latham.

“When they do, the challenge will be managing logistics and managing getting kids to fields. There is no drop-in [recommended in the guidelines]. Everything is pre-register. Not everyone is in that position. It will be a big strain on the clubs and very difficult. But we want to get back on the fields for our kids to be physically and especially mentally healthy. We want kids to be kids again, but safely.”

Hockey organizations say they will use the provincial sports return plan as a road map.

“We are using this [provincial document] as a template to come up with our own plans and policies,” said Nicki Reich, vice-president of the Victoria Minor Hockey Association.

“We have struck a committee on our board to start putting together a risk and safety document based on this [provincial] document. We are starting to make that plan in conjunction with all the partners we work with. For instance, most cleaning protocols are up to the arenas.”

This is just the tentative first step, Island sports organizations say. “We can’t plan a season yet, nor do we know what hockey will look like,” Reich said.

The new guidelines affect the numerous athletes training on the Island for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed to the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic. It is an example of how national sporting protocols will have to dovetail with provincial and local ones.

On Monday, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium announced a $5-million investment in a phased return to high-performance sport training. That plan must meet the safety guidelines of the individual provinces in which the athletes live and train. Ten sports have offices or national training centres on the South Island.

“A return to high-performance sport does not happen overnight, nor is there a one-stop solution,” Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker said in a statement.

“As Canada’s high-performance athletes and coaches will soon return to training in pursuit of their Olympic and Paralympic dreams, we want them to be able to do so in a manner that is safe for them, their families, and their communities.”

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