Ottawa

Cheerleaders try to flip Ontario's decision to close training centres

Ontario cheerleaders are begging the provincial government to allow cheerleading training centres to reopen.

Not recognized as a sport so facilities staying shut — for now

Cheerleaders with Flyers All-Starz Ottawa perform at a competition. The Ontario Cheerleading Federation is calling on the provincial government to allow its training facilities to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. (SmugMug)

Ontario's top cheerleading organization is urging the provincial government to allow its training centres to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the provincial government announced that some sports, like gymnastics, could resume training — but competitive cheerleading wasn't among them.

That's because cheerleading is not recognized as a sport in Ontario, since under the province's rules, it first has to be recognized by Sport Canada.

According to the Ontario Cheerleading Federation, however, it is considered a sport by eight other provinces.

"We have a number of very competitive athletes here in the province of Ontario, and we make up a very large portion of the national team program," said Cj Pugh, president of the federation.

"Our athletes are now unable to train, and kind of falling behind their counterparts from across the country."

Pugh said three training gyms in Ontario alone have gone out of business since the pandemic began.

He said he's been meeting with the provincial government to try and convince them to grant cheerleading an exception, as the remaining facilities are prepared to adjust their training to follow COVID-19-related health guidelines. 

"We're not looking for [the province] to change legislation and get cheerleading turned into a sport," Pugh said.

"But we are asking to expand the definition of which sports can return if a sport organisation can prove that it can return safely, following the ministry guidelines."

Ottawa cheerleader devastated

Emma Beehler, 15, has been in training for the past 10 years, has competed nationally, and was set to go to the world championships when COVID-19 hit. 

The Ottawa teen said she can't accept the government's reasoning that cheerleading isn't considered a sport.

"It just really makes me angry, because I've been told that a lot in my life — and I've proved each person wrong every time," she said.

"But it's been difficult lately because I can't actually do anything to show [the government]."

Emma Beehler performs at a cheerleading competition. The Ottawa teen says she's sick of hearing people say cheerleading isn't a sport. (SmugMug)

Beehler's team, Flyers All-Starz Ottawa, has been training virtually. But according to her mother, Natalie Paquette, it's not the same.

"She has lost pretty much everything that is important to her, and when she thought she was finally getting one of the major parts of her life back she was so pleased," said Paquette, referring to the first stage of Ontario's reopening.

"It was just so awful to watch her have her hopes dashed again."

'Safe and responsible' return

A spokesperson for Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod, the province's Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture, said the government's main priority is ensuring "the health and safety of all Ontarians."

"We're currently working to support the return of other activities, including cheerleading, in a safe and responsible manner as we reopen the province," Brooke Timpson said in a statement to CBC News.

No firm date was given for when that might happen.

About the Author

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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