Montreal

Quebec families, athletes call for return of team sports

The province is expected to make an announcement on the gradual return of team sports next week.

Province expected to make an announcement on sports next week

Hundreds of pro-sports demonstrators marched for two kilometres, demanding more flexibility for sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Hundreds marched near the National Assembly in Quebec City Sunday afternoon, calling on the government to allow team sports to resume in the province. 

Athletes, parents, community organizations and politicians participated in the march, stressing the importance of team sports on peoples' mental and physical health. 

The protest was started by Isaac Pépin, a football player in Secondary 5 at Séminaire Saint-François. He is asking that Quebecers be allowed to participate in team sports again, both for health reasons, and so that younger athletes can keep improving at their sports. 

"With everything that's going on today and the number of people who showed up, I have hope that this will work," Pépin said Sunday. 

High school football player Isaac Pépin, centre, organized the pro-sports march Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The protest also garnered the support of Isabelle Charest, the province's minister responsible for sports. 

"I hear your cries and it is these positive messages that I take with me when I speak to public health," Charest wrote on Twitter Sunday. "We will make it happen." 

Montrealers voice support 

In Montreal, several people echoed their sentiments. Tony De Francesco, director of community services and sports at Sun Youth, believes a return to team sports is long overdue. 

"People from youth organizations like us have noticed a lot of issues, especially with young student athletes, in terms of being able to function on a daily basis without sports," said De Francesco. 

De Francesco says many of the youth he works with rely on sports as a means to succeed academically, and many feel lost without it. 

"A lot of them use this as a social construct and as a coping mechanism to a lot of the things that are happening in their life for the first time," he said. "Sports is their way out and it actually helps them get better grades." 

Justin Frattaroli, an 18-year-old CEGEP student who plays football at Sun Youth, usually relies on team sports as an outlet for his stress. For most of the past year, he's had to resort to exercising at home instead.  

"Because of this pandemic, not only am I missing out on practices, on games, but — I'm sure all athletes can agree with me — we miss being with teammates, the bus rides home, the going out to eat with each other and just being together," said Frattaroli. 

"Practising got everything off my mind. It helped me mentally. It helped me physically"

Discussions with federations ongoing

Starting March 15, extra-curricular activities and sports in schools will be allowed across the province, but team sports outside of school are still forbidden. 

Last week, Premier François Legault said the government is in talks with sports federations to gradually resume sports more widely, but Legault said it's clear some sports cannot be allowed given the risk of transmission.

Legault is expected to announce more details on that next week. 

In an interview Sunday, Luc Fournier, interim general manager of Sports Québec, said the federation has submitted its proposal for the resumption of sports and is currently waiting to hear back from public health authorities. 

"We hope to have an answer maybe Monday or Tuesday," said Fournier. "We know that competitions would be very tough to reopen right now but if we can start by practice or by side activities that would be great." 

Some less eager for team sports to resume

Montreal resident Jennifer Cox says there would need to be strict public health measures in place for her to send her child back to his hockey team. (CBC)

Before the pandemic, Montreal resident Jennifer Cox would be at the arena with seven-year-old son, Cameron, every weekend. 

"Hockey was a really big part of our family's life, our weekend life," said Cox. 

This year, she opted to set up a skating rink in the family's backyard instead, to make sure Cameron could keep practising.

While her son misses interacting with his teammates and coaches, Cox isn't sure she'll be sending him back to the rink just yet — especially because they have an at-risk family member at home. 

"If we were to consider it, we'd really have to see the numbers, how many kids are being allowed to get on the ice, if there's any additional safety restrictions in terms of wearing masks under their helmets and things of that nature," said Cox. 

"I don't think we're 100 per cent ready to dive back into full team sports right now." 

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