Montreal

'They have no more hope': Quebec faces calls to reopen organized sports for youth

Quebec coaches, players and sports federations are demanding the provincial government create an action plan to reopen organized sports for youth, saying the restrictions are having a serious impact on young people's mental health.

Many kids rely on sports to succeed, and they feel dejected without them, says coach

Since Dec. 30, indoor sports have been prohibited in Quebec unless practiced by a single person, by two people or by occupants of the same residence. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)

Quebec coaches, players and sports federations are demanding the provincial government create an action plan to reopen organized sports for youth, saying the restrictions are having a serious impact on young people's mental health.

"For two years, we have had to put sports on hold several times and we are witnessing the harmful effects it is having on our children," Jocelyn Thibault, the director of Hockey Quebec, said Friday.

"Kids don't want to move anymore. They have no more hope," said Thibault, adding some kids are dropping sports altogether.

Since Dec. 30, indoor sports have been prohibited in Quebec unless practiced by a single person, by two people or by occupants of the same residence.

Premier François Legault is asking Quebecers to be patient, saying the situation in hospitals is still too fragile to begin relaxing more COVID-19 measures. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The mayors of Sherbooke and Quebec City recently called on Premier François Legault to start lifting some restrictions, especially those that limit sports, but Legault asked Quebecers last week to be patient, saying the situation in hospitals is still too fragile to begin relaxing more COVID-19 measures. 

"We're anxious for our young people to start doing sports again," Legault said Thursday in response to a call to reopen sports from the Official Opposition.

But he said it's contradictory to demand the province's public health director be independent from political decision makers, and then ignore his recommendations. 

'An emotional rollercoaster' for kids

Denburk Reid, founder of the Red Rush Basketball Leadership Program, says the constant opening and closing of sports is "an emotional rollercoaster" for kids. 

"You got to be there to support them mentally, but its a mental drain on these kids," the basketball coach said. "It affects their school work, it affects their behaviour, it affects so many different things."

Reid says many youth he works with rely on sports to succeed, and they feel dejected without them. 

"We all know the importance of sports in terms of our upbringing and our lives and how it puts you on that pathway to success," he said. "We're losing lives over here." 

Denburk Reid, founder of the Red Rush Basketball Leadership Program, says many youth he works with rely on sports to succeed, and he's seeing the negative impacts of the lockdown firsthand. (CBC)

Tony De Francesco, director of community services and sports at Sun Youth, says it's become tougher to explain to kids why we are still in this situation from a sports perspective. 

"I think for the kids it went from being a question of sacrifice ... to punishment," he said, adding that they're finding it difficult to stay positive.

De Francesco also worries about the long-term negative effects lockdown will have on children's development. 

"How is this going to affect our kids not only physically in 20 to 30 years, but socially and emotionally?"

Calls for a clear return date

In a statement to CBC News, the province says a return to safe sports for kids is a priority. 

"The minister is working on this issue in collaboration with recreation and sport partners and public health," reads a statement from the office of Isabelle Charest, Quebec's sports minister. 

But for now, the province says it's important Quebecers continue to follow public health guidelines and encourage vaccination.

Thierry Gamelin, communications and marketing director at Sports Québec, says the corporation is working with different partners as well as the government to secure a concrete return date.

"Sports Québec is really aiming to get a clear calendar and a clear schedule as to how we can resume sports," he said. 

Gamelin says he wants to see the resumption of training within teams as a first step and assess how that goes for a few weeks. If all goes well, he says the province should gradually resume tournaments, games and events. 

"It's time to get sports back on track," he said. 

Based on reporting by Kwabena Oduro

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