British Columbia

B.C. youth sports tournaments to resume — but not school-based championships

Youth sports tournaments can resume in B.C. on Tuesday after a month-long hiatus due to the spread of the Omicron variant, but school-based tournaments are still not allowed.

Province to meet with committee of K-12 stakeholders this week to discuss safety of school sports tournaments

A group of kids play hockey on Serpentine Fen during a period of cold weather in Surrey, British Columbia. Youth sports tournaments can go ahead on Tuesday after more than a month away due to the spread of COVID-19. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Youth sports tournaments can resume in B.C. on Tuesday after a month-long hiatus due to the spread of the Omicron variant, but school-based tournaments are still not allowed.

Tournaments had been cancelled since Dec. 21, as part of a wider set of public health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the highly transmissible 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.

According to one B.C. parent, the split decision was a "frustrating" one and showed a discrepancy in the province's rules.

"Unfortunately, with this recent announcement, provincial championships are also in jeopardy," said Lucky Toor, a father of two student athletes in Delta, B.C., and a high school basketball coach in the area.

"Not every high school athlete can afford to play a community or a club sport … This might be their only opportunity to play. And now that's being taken away. "

Thousands of parents, including Toor, have signed a petition calling on the province to even the playing field and allow school championships to go ahead.

The senior girls' basketball team at Seaquam Secondary School in Delta, B.C., which is coached by Lucky Toor. (Submitted by Lucky Toor)

"The high school basketball tournaments still generate a lot of university coaches coming out watching games, even if they're not in person," Toor said.

However, a member of the advocacy group Safe Schools Coalition B.C. says sports tournaments were a vector in the spread of COVID-19 among children.

"Basketball and hockey teams, particularly, seem to be a source of spread," said Jennifer Heighton, a teacher in Burnaby and co-founder of the group.

Heighton says that unmasked players who breathe heavily during games and dressing rooms with poor ventilation create a situation where the airborne coronavirus can spread.

"It is surprising that we're seeing tournaments right now starting back up again," she said. 

"Especially considering how much the Omicron variant is spreading — to the point where we are not even sure of the true case numbers because of lack of testing."

Heighton says sports are very important for students' mental health, but the province should institute changes to curb the spread of the virus during games.

These include HEPA air filters cleaning the air in the gym where games are played, improving circulation in locker rooms and improving access to rapid tests before games.

Youth sports tournaments are set to resume February 1st in B.C., but it's a different story on school campuses. Safe Schools Coalition B.C.'s Jennifer Heighton weighs in.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said the province was going to meet with a K-12 steering committee regarding the safety of school sports tournaments.

The committee includes parents, trustees, teachers, Indigenous stakeholders and support workers.

"We are grateful for the extraordinary work undertaken at this time by everyone in our education system to ensure learning continuity for students," the spokesperson said.

With files from Meera Bains and Joel Ballard

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