Nova Scotia

N.S. school officials OK rugby games despite rift with athletic federation

School administrators in Nova Scotia are authorizing high school rugby games to continue even though the sport is no longer sanctioned by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation.

Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation says its board 'has not resolved' the rugby issue

The Nova Scotia government demanded the province's school athletic federation reinstate high school rugby on Friday afternoon. (Shutterstock)

School administrators in Nova Scotia are authorizing high school rugby games to continue even though the sport is no longer sanctioned by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation.

The seven English regional education centres have confirmed to CBC News that they informed principals rugby seasons can continue. The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial has one women's rugby team at École secondaire le Carrefour in Dartmouth, N.S., and they can also continue their season. 

The Tri-County Regional Centre for Education and the Cape Breton Victoria Regional Centre for Education said officials directed games to continue to "minimize disruption and disappointment to students."

It's still unclear if this means all games will proceed as scheduled.

A game Monday afternoon between Cole Harbour High School and Eastern Shore High School was cancelled due to there not being enough players available from one of the teams, according to Eastern Shore principal Jennifer Murray. 

These J.L. Ilsley High School students were among nearly 200 rugby players who showed up to protest Friday outside the Halifax Convention Centre, where the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation was hosting a 'Celebration of School Sport Luncheon.' (David Burke/CBC)

The athletic federation announced last Thursday at noon that it was cancelling the sport effective immediately due to safety concerns. The decision prompted a large outcry from players, parents and coaches

Top doctors and some sports health professionals in the province also questioned the sudden decision and students athletes across the province protested.

On Friday afternoon, Education Minister Zach Churchill ordered the decision be reversed. He released a statement saying the athletic federation neglected to consult school communities about the move and did not inform the Education Department it intended to make the decision public.

Churchill was not available to comment on Monday afternoon. In a statement, he said his department has a meeting Tuesday with the athletic federation's board "to discuss a path forward in the best interest of our students." 

"Regional education directors and the CSAP superintendent are today informing their principals that high school rugby will continue."

Officials from the athletic federation met Monday to discuss Churchill's directive. On Sunday, the group sent a memo to schools saying its board of governors "have not resolved" the rugby issue.

In the memo, executive director Stephen Gallant said as is the case with any sport not approved by the federation, it's up to a principal to decide whether a game can be played.

Stephen MacNeil chairs the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation's board of governors. (CBC)

In another May 5 letter to principals, the chair of the NSSAF board of governors, Stephen MacNeil, said the federation never breached its funding agreement with the province because it kept the department apprised of its discussions around rugby.

MacNeil said he spoke about the status of rugby and what sports may replace it with the Education Department's deputy minister at the end of March. He also said a representative from the department who attended the meeting in which rugby was cancelled never voiced any concerns.

"Our Board is simply not confident that a safe environment exists when rugby is being introduced to young men and women at the high school level," MacNeil said in the letter.

Rugby teams from Eastern Shore District High School and Prince Andrew High School are shown at a match last Wednesday. (Jenna Smaggus photo)

Churchill reiterated Monday that his department wasn't aware of the plan to announce the cancellation.

Education Department spokesperson Chrissy Matheson said the federation issued the directive cancelling rugby without giving the department a heads-up or consulting with school communities.

She said the observer from the department who was present during the meeting Thursday when the federation cancelled the sport didn't get a vote in the matter.

Churchill has asked the federation to work with his department in putting together a panel of experts to look at safety in school sports.

Injured player speaks out

Dozens of rugby players turned out to rally in Sydney on Monday to show they want the sport reinstated and to support an international exchange student who was hurt in a game last week. 

Diego Kuri of Mexico is attending Sydney Academy. Last Wednesday, Kuri had to be airlifted to Halifax after he collided with another player during a game against the Glace Bay Panthers.

Diego Kuri is an international exchange student from Mexico who was injured in a rugby game last week. He says he'll play again. (CBC)

He does not think the sport should be cancelled at Nova Scotia schools.

"It's no one's fault, it's just a sport and it's a risk that every sport has," said Kuri. "There's people, they love playing rugby, so it's a good sport ... Yes, I will play again."

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past nine years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

With files from Jean Laroche, Gary Mansfield and Anjuli Patil

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