Politics

Ottawa to assist Olympic athletes, staff with costs of pandemic travel restrictions

The federal government has agreed to offer 750 Olympic and Paralympic athletes — along with members of their support staff — exemptions from some quarantine-related travel restrictions in the lead-up to the Olympics, Radio-Canada has learned.

Details of exemptions will be announced in coming days, says Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault

People wearing protective masks walk past a 2020 Olympics logo in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The federal government has agreed to offer 750 Olympic and Paralympic athletes — along with members of their support staff — exemptions from some quarantine-related travel restrictions in the lead-up to the Olympics, Radio-Canada has learned.

Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault told Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview that an agreement has been reached between his government, the Canadian Olympic Committee and major sports federations to facilitate the return of athletes to Canada.

"We have found a solution to accommodate our high-level athletes and we are working on the terms," said Guilbeault, adding the government doesn't want to make things harder for Canadian athletes.

Details of the exemptions will be announced in the coming days, he said.

However, a high level source with knowledge of the issue later reached out to CBC News to explain that the federal government is working on a mechanism that would allow athletes to avoid paying costs associated with the initial isolation period. But the official also said that changes to quarantine and isolation requirements are unlikely. 

The minister said the implementation of the exemptions will be swift, since "we already have athletes who are outside and who are about to come back, so we must move quickly on this."

The assistance will target athletes that have to travel abroad to participate in competitions to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that travellers returning to Canada will have to wait up to three days at a government-approved hotel for their COVID-19 test results at their own expense — which he said is expected to run to more than $2,000 per person.

Many Olympic athletes are in no position to cover such costs, said Quebec middle-distance runner Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, currently in Europe competing to build his world ranking.

"In many Olympic sports, the athletes are not in financial situations which allow them to add $2,000 to expenses just like that," he said.

"We don't have a choice whether or not to leave the country to take part in our competitions."

Exemptions

More flexible quarantine rules are also being sought by the Olympic committee and major Canadian sports federations to allow athletes to continue their training when they return to Canada.

"Taking two weeks out this close to the Olympic Games is a huge challenge for them," said Simon Nathan, high performance director for Athletics Canada.

"In your mind as an athlete, it's giving all your competitors around you an advantage. You know they're out doing everything they can, probably training twice a day with their coach. They can just see their rivals not having to do that and ... there's a physical cost to that. And there's a huge mental cost to that as well."

The federal government has yet to state when the new restrictions for travellers returning to Canada on international flights will take effect.

This is the first time the Trudeau government has publicly identified a group that will benefit from the easing of restrictions.

Any exemptions to travel restrictions will be limited and targeted, Trudeau said last week.

"We're always going to try to see if there are extreme cases where we can make small exceptions. But even by making exceptions on a case-by-case basis, we are not going to put Canadians at risk," Trudeau said.

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