The decision means that varsity sports activities, including exhibition games with post-secondary opponents, league play, post-season play, and championships will not be taking place at any Ontario university in the fall.
OUA confirms that the cancellation is a hard decision and will remain in effect, regardless of any potential decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario.
“Unprecedented times require unprecedented action, which is what led us to this difficult decision,” Dr. Mike DeGagné, Chair of the OUA Board of Directors, said in a press release. “The health of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, officials, and fans is our number one priority and after significant consultation, we believe that OUA sport cannot be delivered prior to December 31.”
The decision to cancel programming is currently only applicable for the fall term. It is unclear as of yet whether sports will proceed in the winter. However, Gord Grace, OUA President & CEO, says that OUA’s goal will be a 2nd term return.
“We remain hopeful that we can provide quality experiences for our student-athletes starting in the new year and will be closely monitoring the ongoing health considerations and viability for these future opportunities over the coming months,” Grace said.
UW Athletics is also hopeful for a 2nd term return to sports. “We’re all hoping [winter sport] happens, we’re having meetings and mapping out plans for training, strength and conditioning, and training in our facilities, because that’s what we all want,” Brian Bourque, UW Varsity Athletics Associate Director and Men’s Hockey Head Coach said. “But I think, just like every aspect of the world, we’re all following this pandemic, and following the ups and downs of it and wondering if it will happen. In a perfect world, things will improve to a state where we can have sports in January.”
There is some possibility for fall term sports to be moved to the spring of 2021, according to the OUA.
“The possibility remains for 1st Term sports to be executed during spring 2021, or in the form of a modified delivery, sometime between February and May,” OUA’s website reads. “There will be continued conversation with the OUA’s member institutions to gauge the feasibility – both financial and logistical – of executing OUA sports prior to or during the spring 2021 timeframe.”
Bourque says UW hasn’t yet received any clarification on the possibility of spring sports. “There hasn’t been any clarity on that, which we’re expecting to receive soon. But at UW, if those opportunities are presented, then our hope is that our athletes will be able to participate,” he said. “But again, there’s very little [chance]. What’s being talked about more now is the fall and winter sports.”
The OUA says training including scrimmages will be allowed, provided they follow the criteria set out by U SPORTS, Canada’s national governing body of university sports. Guidelines and restrictions regarding training will vary between institutions.
“[Universities] will have the autonomy to implement return-to-train protocols in accordance with provincial health regulations, while maintaining the emphasis on the safety and well-being of all participants,” the OUA website reads. “Further direction in return-to-train guidelines will also be advised by the sport’s respective provincial and/or national organization.”
Bourque says UW plans to follow the guidelines by Provincial Sport Organizations (PSOs). “We are actually in the process of tracking each sport and what the directives are from their PSOs,” Bourque said. “And we will at a minimum, follow their PSO guidelines, and then maybe make some institutional adjustments. But we are expecting to follow the return to train protocol specific to each sport in the fall.”
Bourque described how UW Athletic staff and student-athletes are faring under the pandemic’s changes.
“We, on our campus, are pretty supportive of our athletes: right now, as an example, every 3 weeks, we send communications from the department directly to our athletes, with updates for information that we can provide,” Bourque said. “There is a lot of support that comes from the coaches. They’re sharing, supporting and communicating, through their academic endeavors, to mental health and wellness and to scheduling and preparation So our goal is that we’re going to keep our coaches in place.”
While the decision to cancel fall sports is disappointing to many, the OUA and UW Athletics are working to make the best of the season, and hope for sports to return soon.