WLA forced to postpone start of season due to COVID-19 pandemic

It could be a while before Island lacrosse fans hear that familiar squeak of sneakers on the concrete floors of arenas.

The Western Lacrosse Association, which includes the Victoria Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen, has joined the long list of sports leagues and events impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It was announced Tuesday the 2020 WLA season, set to open May 21, has been postponed.

“First and foremost, it is about following the provincial guidelines, and keeping everyone safe and well,” said Shamrocks general manager Chris Welch.

Welch said it is just his personal opinion, but his inner clock tells him the WLA season must start by July 1 or risk being cancelled altogether.

“We have a short season to begin with and our margins are small,” said Welch.

“We are not the NHL or NBA. We do not have a big cushion. We are monitoring the situation and keeping our players apprised of it All we can say at this point is that there are far more questions than answers.”

The WLA said revised schedules have been drafted.

“We are working closely with our counterparts with Major Series Lacrosse in Ontario as we work towards competing for the Mann Cup in September in Ontario,” said the WLA, in a statement.

“Our league staff and teams are continuing preparations for our 52nd season and look forward to bringing box lacrosse back to our communities as soon as it is safe and reasonable to do so. We will follow the guidance of the public health authorities and government agencies during this public health crisis. The health and safety of our players, staff, fans, and partners is of the utmost importance as we manage through this situation.”

The sports business — from the Olympics, NHL, NBA, MLB, MLS and European soccer on down — has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 through cancellations or postponements.

The remainder of the Victoria Royals’ Western Hockey League season, including playoffs, have been cancelled and the scheduled beginning this month of Pacific FC’s soccer season in the Canadian Premier League postponed.

Several international sporting events planned this spring and summer for the Island have also been affected. The Canada men’s soccer fixtures against Trinidad and Tobago, considered crucial for 2022 World Cup Qatar qualifying in CONCACAF and scheduled for March 27 and Tuesday at Westhills Stadium in Langford, were cancelled.

The annual Stars on Ice, featuring former world championship and Winter Olympic figure skating medallists and scheduled for May 12 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, has been cancelled. The Canada Sevens women’s rugby tournament, planned for May 2-3 at Westhills Stadium, has been postponed.

“We are disappointed but we are far from alone,” Welch said about the WLA situation. “It’s happening up and down and all over in the sports world. Everyone has to do their part to flatten the curve and get past this thing.”

A salvageable Island sports event appears to be the Tokyo Olympic basketball qualifying tournament. The event was originally scheduled for June 23-28 at the Memorial Centre, but upon receiving the new dates of July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021, for the rescheduled Summer Games, was postponed, but local organizers hope to hold the event next spring.

“That was the first major domino in giving us clarity,” said Clint Hamilton, chair of the Victoria organizing committee.

“We in the organizing committee are all motivated by this new Olympic date, especially since Canada Basketball and FIBA have been clear in that they want the qualifying tournament to go ahead and be held in Victoria. This will give us more time to prepare [for a qualifier shifted to next year].”

It is expected sports and the performing arts will play important emotional roles when the recovery begins.

“I think it will be slow and gradual,” said Welch.

“There will not be a magic switch to get back to the way things were before the pandemic. People are different. Some fans will proceed back to games cautiously while others will be rarin’ to go. When it begins to happen, I see restrictions on sports gatherings and practices being lifted gradually and not all at once.”

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