Saskatchewan

Sask. sports organizations say seasons in jeopardy if restrictions aren't lifted sooner than planned

Sports organizations in Saskatchewan say it’s time for athletes to start competing again.

Sports restrictions could be lifted in third week of June

Several sports organizations say some leagues may have to cancel their seasons if COVID-19 restrictions aren't lifted earlier than planned. (Will Graves/File-The Associated Press)

Sports organizations in Saskatchewan say it's time for athletes to start competing again.

There are many restrictions currently in place for youth and adult sports, including a maximum of eight people being allowed to train together, with three metres of separation between participants and five metres of separation from other groups.

The restrictions are scheduled to be lifted in step two of the province's reopening roadmap, which could begin in the third week of June.

Premier Scott Moe said on Wednesday he acknowledges how difficult it has been for many athletes, but that it's crucial to vaccinate as many people as possible in step one before opening "broader segments of our community and that includes youth and adult sports."

Mike Ramage, executive director of Baseball Sask, said he appreciates why protocols are in place, but that restrictions on sports — especially outdoor sports — need to be lifted earlier.

"Obviously, indoor sports and outdoor sports are very different, especially this time of year where you can be outside of fresh air and ample room to socially distance," he said.

Ramage said smaller ball clubs may have to cancel their seasons if restrictions aren't eased sooner, and Baseball Sask would likely lose memberships and revenue.

"If we're not allowed to start any of these leagues until the third week of June, then that's probably going to kill a lot of the programs across the province for us."

He also said competition is important for kids.

"Kids need some kind of an avenue to release some steam [after] being cooped up in the house the last few months," he said.

"They need this for their physical health, as well their mental health, so the sooner that we can get these guys playing, these boys and girls playing, the better."

Rumage said provincial championships are still scheduled to happen, but that could change depending on when they would start and if tournaments are allowed to happen by then.

There are also ongoing talks to determine if the Western Canada Baseball Association championships will take place, according to Ramage.

Baseball Canada, meanwhile, announced in April it's cancelling national championships for the upcoming season due to COVID-19.

Sport can be part of the solution

Doug Pederson, executive director of the Saskatchewan Soccer Association, said soccer leagues are in a similar situation  — they're grateful to be part of the plan, but want restrictions eased earlier.

"We think soccer [and] sport contribute to community mental health and physical well-being, and we certainly believe that it can be an important part of step one," he said.

Pederson said up to 70 per cent of its member organizations — particularly in rural parts of the province — may have to cancel their seasons if restrictions aren't lifted in the next few weeks, because they typically only run until the end of June.

"We've demonstrated this last year that soccer is safe and we think we can be part of the solution," he said.

"Soccer and sport in general is really important to community wellness, tremendously important, and we think people will be more incentivized to support the reopen roadmap, get vaccinated and stay healthy if they can see their interests reflected in the plan."

Gradually easing restrictions

Brian Guebert, executive director of Saskatoon Minor Football (SMF), said he's also happy there's a plan in place to get sports back to normal and he sees the value in having safety protocols.

However, he would have preferred to see at least some of the current restrictions for team sports eased in step one. He said it would help with the transition back to normal play.

"We owe it to our membership to provide football in any way possible."

He said training in small groups is better than nothing, and has benefits like improving fundamental skills and physical literacy, but that players need to get back to competing against other teams.

"Everybody is missing an opportunity to get out and be competitive with each other and that's the biggest thing that we're looking forward to."

He said some SMF leagues may have to find an alternative way to compete that would adhere to current restrictions or — worst case scenario — cancel their seasons if none of the restrictions are lifted before step two begins.

Each organization said it's working with the province to have sports moved into step one of the reopen plan.

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