Only two world wars and the Spanish flu have caused bigger disruptions than the current one the venerable Vancouver Island Soccer League is facing in its 125th anniversary season.
The VISL is aiming for an Aug. 1 restart amid the pandemic.
“This is a special year for us and we don’t want to list COVID as the 2020 champion,” said VISL executive director Vince Greco.
“We have a proud history and want to finish off our 125th season with a bang, not a fizzle.”
That legacy includes producing three players for the 1986 World Cup in Canada’s lone appearance. Numerous more VISL alumni have also earned caps for Canada and went on to play pro.
“A ton of guys want to play and finish out this season. My phone has been blowing up,” said Greco.
“We are at the semifinal stages of all our Cup competitions. Getting those underway August 1 — with the Jackson Cup [Division 1] final going in mid-August is a best-case scenario. We realize that. Our secondary plan is a September 1 restart. That seems to be a big date for a lot of sports.”
The VISL, however, knows it is all predicated on getting the go-ahead from provincial health authorities. The province released its Return to Sport Guidelines, after a review by WorkSafe B.C. and viaSport, last week. The main provisions of the first stage of reopening concern maintaining physical distance of two metres, minimal sharing of equipment, focusing on skill development in small-group training and staying local.
Canada Soccer and B.C. Soccer also have their return-to-play protocols which must be followed.
“Some of our players have started working out informally in small groups while keeping their distance,” said Greco.
The VISL has 77 men’s teams, comprised of nearly 2,000 players, in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Most municipal fields are now open to the public, but not totally yet to official leagues and teams.
The Jackson Cup is at the semifinal stage with Lakehill waiting to play the Highlanders and Vic West to meet Nanaimo United.
“It [league restart] is possible if the province keeps moving as we are through the re-opening phases as planned,” said Greco.
“We’re not like wrestling, but there is contact in soccer. It’s tricky but worth it to try to play again to finish the season.”
Greco said the 2020-21 VISL regular season would begin right after the restart of the 2019-20 Cup competitions are dealt with and completed.
“Next season would start virtually right away after this season’s Cup finals are over — maybe a week after,” he said.
European pro soccer leagues have already begun to play, some sans fans and others with limited attendance. Major League Soccer has announced its reboot tournament plans for July 8 to Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The Canadian Premier League, which includes Island-based Pacific FC, is exploring an abbreviated, single-site pandemic season to take place without fans at either Westhills Stadium in Langford or in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
An issue for the sports restart is insurance. B.C. passed an order-in-cabinet this week protecting youth and other amateur non-profit sports organizations in the province from liability regarding COVID-19. The VISL falls under that umbrella as a not-for-profit amateur league.
“What people don’t realize is that order is only in effect as long as there is a provincial emergency declared,” said Greco.
What happens after the emergency is lifted, he wonders.
“Our regular insurance has no COVID-19 coverage,” added Greco. “B.C. Soccer is looking into other providers.”
Greco said VISL players will be asked to sign waivers before being allowed to play.
“We want youth sports to get going this summer. That is really important,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Her comments during Thursday’s pandemic briefing were directed at youth sports, but they are also applicable to adult men’s and women’s amateur sports leagues.
“There is a balancing of risks here. That [sports] is one of the lower-risk activities and we know it’s good for both physical and mental health,” added Henry.
“I do absolutely think youth sports will be coming very soon and will be safe.”
What is for certain is that amateur sport, from youth to adult, is re-emerging from the shutdown.
Greco is adamant the name engraved on the Jackson Cup for 2020 will be either Lakehill, Highlanders, Vic West or Nanaimo United and not COVID.