Graphic by Nigel Mathias

OUA and U Sports cancel all games and competitions for the winter 2021 term.

Following the cancellation of fall 2020 sports by U Sports, the organization recently announced its decision to cancel the winter 2021 championships, thus completely shutting down the 2020-2021 competitive season. The championships cancelled include basketball, swimming, wrestling, hockey, track and field and volleyball, in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

As COVID-19 cases around Canada began to rapidly increase due to the second wave, it would not be feasible to hold games in tournaments while sacrificing the health of student-athletes and team members. With Quebec and Ontario being the greater sources of recent cases, having teams travel between each other for away games would not only potentially harm the athletes, but their families and friends as well. 

Furthermore, as provincial governments are now implementing indoor gathering restrictions, it would be difficult to continue planning for a season due to the unpredictable nature of the virus. 

“It is not logistically possible for teams to be travelling across the country at this time. Therefore, U Sports is in the unfortunate position where we are unable to offer the 2021 winter championships,” said Dick White, interim chief executive officer of U Sports. 

U Sports’ decision is also supported by Atlantic University Sport, Canada West, Ontario University Athletics and Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec. Despite “Return to Competition” being officially cancelled, “Return to Train” is still occurring, with guidelines being determined independently by each university’s athletics department, including McMaster University.

“We have a modified return to train plan, which offers student-athletes some level of engagement while socially distanced and in safe settings. It’s about maintaining fitness, engagement, but also supporting people’s sense of belonging. We obviously have to do this while under public health guidelines and those of the university, but we have worked internally with teams (i.e. basketball) and public health to come up with a plan that allows certain members of teams to get back into training, like a pilot project,” said Shawn Burt, director of Athletics and Recreation at McMaster University. 

“We have a modified return to train plan, which offers student-athletes some level of engagement while socially distanced and in safe settings. It’s about maintaining fitness, engagement, but also supporting people’s sense of belonging. We obviously have to do this while under public health guidelines and those of the university, but we have worked internally with teams (i.e. basketball) and public health to come up with a plan that allows certain members of teams to get back into training, like a pilot project,” said Burt.

Despite the clinic having reduced hours, the minimal contact athletes undergo in part of this training program limits the probability of major injuries.

As courses are completed remotely for the 2020-2021 school year, very few students are on campus and thus, have limited access to their support services. Alongside implementing the “Return to Train” program, the McMaster athletics department is also providing mental health support to their athletes and virtual opportunities to train. 

Burt explained that the department is working alongside the Student Wellness Centre to make appropriate accommodations for the athletes to ensure they get the support they need.

“We’re making [the Student Wellness Centre] aware of some of the changes among our student-athletes and aware of the unique stressors that go hand-in-hand with losing your competitive season, training and travel. Our team also contracted a social worker to conduct seminars to stay engaged and positive. The team continues to further look at other offerings to help the athletes at this time,” said Burt. 

“We’re making [the Student Wellness Centre] aware of some of the changes among our student-athletes and aware of the unique stressors that go hand-in-hand with losing your competitive season, training and travel. Our team also contracted a social worker to conduct seminars to stay engaged and positive. The team continues to further look at other offerings to help the athletes at this time,” said Burt. 

The Athletics department continues to offer department-wide seminars while teams also conduct their own support programs individually. 

With that being said, the cancellation of the winter 2020-2021 season was tough to digest for student-athletes, faculty and fans alike. 

“My heart goes out to all the student-athletes who did everything right to get to McMaster and qualify academically and then to have this taken it away from you is really difficult. It started with the cancellation of the fall season and then going to winter, it’s difficult for everybody from administration to coaches to athletes. Even though some of these things weren’t unexpected, it doesn’t make it any easier to share that news,” said Burt.

“My heart goes out to all the student-athletes who did everything right to get to McMaster and qualify academically and then to have this taken it away from you is really difficult. It started with the cancellation of the fall season and then going to winter, it’s difficult for everybody from administration to coaches to athletes. Even though some of these things weren’t unexpected, it doesn’t make it any easier to share that news,” said Burt.

Despite there being a possibility of a spring and summer season, it’s quite difficult to speculate the outcome due to the fluctuation of COVID-19 cases and budgets for schools. Ultimately whether it’s a safe decision is dependent on the province’s number of cases moving forward. 

With regard to financial consequences, the department of Athletics and Recreation has taken a major hit with fee reductions, overall revenue generation and changes to staffing, yet their commitment to support their athletes remains the same. Despite this financial impact, the university and its faculties gave their support to research initiatives and mental health support according to Burt.

With the possibility of school not even returning for fall 2021, Burt said the department is not leaving anything up to chance. 

“We don’t even want to contemplate sports not being there next fall, but we are planning for all situations because it would be irresponsible for us not to . . . The tricky part is we are going to be at the behest of the City of Hamilton and the province of Ontario on what we can do,” said Burt. 

While hoping that some sort of normalcy returns to the playing field with greater access to training, it’s important to maintain a positive mood while supporting the McMaster Athletics community during these difficult times.

Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.