As Western Canada continues to work through the ongoing impact of COVID-19, university sport will look very different this fall across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Canada West announced Monday that no conference competition (regular season, playoff, or championships) will occur in football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s rugby 15s, and women’s field hockey during the first term of the 2020-21 season.
All of the decisions announced Monday were ratified unanimously through a vote of Canada West’s 17 member universities on Friday. A decision will be made by July 15 on championships in golf, cross country, and swimming
No two-term sports (hockey, volleyball, basketball) will commence prior to January 1, 2021, with a decision to be made no later than October 8.
Student-athletes in sports without U SPORTS national championships this season will not be charged eligibility and will remain eligible for athletic financial aid (scholarships)
“The Canada West Task Force presented a very thorough recommendation report to all the athletic directors,” said UNBC Director of Athletics and Recreation, Loralyn Murdoch. “The committee had representation from each CW province, expert medical professionals, therapists, and members of the board. The report as presented had unanimous support for the cancellation of fall sports and the postponement of winter sports until early Jan 2021. The health and safety of our student athletes and staff is of the upmost importance. My heart goes out to our UNBC soccer players and coaches with this announcement. We are committed to delivering a high-performance training program via various safe and approved platforms in preparation for when the restrictions lift and we are able to compete again.”
Additional decisions on whether first term conference championships scheduled for men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s and women’s swimming will be made by July 15 following further exploration around feasibility.
The decision to cancel first term competition in team sports also impacts men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s volleyball, along with men’s and women’s basketball. The aforementioned sports traditionally span both the first and second terms, but conference play in these sports will commence no sooner than January 2021, with a decision on the matter being made by October 8.
Whether second term competitions (men’s and women’s wrestling, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s curling, and women’s rugby 7s) are staged will also be made by the same October 8th deadline.
Canada West’s announcement came on the same day as both Atlantic University Sport (AUS) and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced their own first term cancellations, which were made independently by each conference’s Board of Directors.
Nationally, U SPORTS also announced the cancellation of all U SPORTS first term national championships, as decided by the U SPORTS Board of Directors. The national governing body also made an announcement pertaining to athletic financial aid and eligibility, ensuring student-athletes will not be negatively impacted by the cancellation of their respective seasons.
“The challenging nature of today’s announcement can’t be understated. As a former student-athlete and coach I feel deeply for everyone who won’t be able to experience the joys of university competition this fall,” said CW president and University of Victoria athletic director Clint Hamilton. “While cancellation isn’t the outcome anyone associated with university sport wanted, I’m confident in the fact that this difficult decision is in the best interests of our student-athletes. Health and safety is at the forefront of everything we do and simply put there was no way to adequately ensure the safety of everyone involved in university sport during competition this fall.”
Over the last several weeks Canada West’s COVID-19 Task Force has been working to inform the conference’s board, who based on the Task Force’s report recommended the cancellation of first term competition. The Board’s recommendation was subsequently supported through a unanimous vote of CW members.
The COVID-19 Task Force was comprised of CW Board members representing each province, along with medical professionals, including Dr. Steve Martin (University of Victoria varsity sports medicine physician and CW representative on the U SPORTS medical committee).
“The task force undertook significant discussion and research to inform our recommendations with public health considerations, specifically minimizing risk for both individual participants and the general public, at the core of our work,” said Martin. “By and large, sport competition provides a high-risk environment for the transmission of COVID-19. While other areas of society continue to mitigate risk through new guidelines, sport provides a challenge in this regard as any risk mitigation would render many sports unrecognizable.”
While professional sports leagues continue to explore options for a return to competition, the resources they will have at their disposal to minimize the risk of infection will not be the reality for Canada West members when the transition from training to competition eventually occurs.
With respect to CW members returning to training, those decisions will be made individually by members and will be based on university policies and guidelines from their respective provincial health authority.