British Columbia

B.C. to announce return of school-based sports tournaments

B.C.’s education ministry said an announcement is coming Friday regarding the return of team-based school sports tournaments, which were suspended in the face of the more-transmissible Omicron variant.

Advocate not optimistic about announcement, suspects precautions to protect kids will disappoint

The senior girls' basketball team at Seaquam Secondary School in Delta, B.C., which is coached by Lucky Toor. B.C.'s education ministry said an announcement about allowing team-based sports tournaments to resume is coming Friday. (Submitted by Lucky Toor)

For school sports tournaments, it's game on.

B.C.'s education ministry said an announcement is coming Friday regarding the return of team-based school sports tournaments, which were suspended in the face of the more-transmissible Omicron variant.

The ministry offered no specific details in an emailed statement to CBC News but said the announcement will "allow team-based tournaments to resume, ensuring all school-based health and safety guidelines are in place at all tournament venues."

"We are grateful for the extraordinary work undertaken at this time by everyone in our education system to ensure programs like sports tournaments can continue for students, while remaining committed to keeping in-class learning as our top priority," the statement read.

Tournaments have been cancelled since Dec. 21 as part of a wider set of public health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that youth sports would be allowed to go ahead at a news conference on Jan. 25 as more children continue to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, the Ministry of Health later clarified that only community-based sports tournaments would return, with competitions organized by schools still restricted.

'Pins and needles'

The school tournament ban led to outcry from many parents. An online petition started last week calling for the ban to be reversed has amassed over 13,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

"I am not surprised at all in any way, shape or form," said petition-starter Tricia Joseph, a Richmond parent of two high school basketball players, when asked about the many signatures.

"This is a big deal in these young kids' lives … and we wanted to make sure that they got to have that one last experience after two years of, basically, COVID hell."

Joseph wants to see tomorrow's announcement ensure that spectators can be present at games. If fans can go watch the Canucks play, she argued, why can't she watch her kids?

"They don't want to just be playing to empty stands," she said.

Lucky Toor, a basketball coach at Seaquam Secondary in Delta who also has two daughters playing on a junior basketball team, said the timing of the news gives him hope basketball provincials can be played along with lead-up regional tournaments.

"I think everybody was sitting on pins and needles right now with all this uncertainty, whether or not the next level of playoffs can happen," Toor said. 

"I can just kind of feel the excitement amongst our kids that all the work they've been putting in is finally going to be rewarded by just having this opportunity."

Advocate wants airborne safety measures

Health officials said this week that hospitalizations in B.C. appear to have peaked, as a review of recent cases shows the risk of hospitalization has been cut in half during the Omicron wave.

B.C. recorded 1,518 new COVID cases on Thursday but with Omicron's rapid spread overwhelming testing capacity, that is viewed as an undercount.

Jennifer Heighton with advocacy group Safe Schools Coalition B.C. said she would like to see tournaments proceed but with strong precautions for airborne spread: better ventilation, open doors to promote air flow, mask-wearing and measures to avoid crowded locker rooms.

She said she has almost no faith those measures will be coming.

"[Health officials] wait for things to get out of hand before they actually put safety measures in, which is really disappointing. We wish that they would be more proactive," Heighton said.

"This matters because it is important that kids be able to play safely."

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