As local businesses, schools and social gatherings face cancellations in response to the COVID-10 pandemic, major sports organizations have also been braving turbulent changes.
The four major national sports in North America — basketball, baseball, hockey and football — have all been greatly affected by the virus. The original plan was to have games continue, but not allow fans or unnecessary personnel near games.
In theory, this was a great idea; it would have allowed for play to continue and the multi-billion dollar industry to continue creating some revenue, such as through television ads. However, when the first pro athlete, Rudy Gobert, the center for the Utah Jazz, contracted the virus, this idea went out the window along with any hope of play to continue. After the NBA cancelled games, the rest of the sports world soon followed suit.
As the days progress, more professional athletes are testing positive for COVID-19. This has been attributed to athletes' consistent travels from city to city for games and practices, which makes them more susceptible to contracting the virus and spreading it.
It has been suggested that the best way to mitigate exposure and transmission of the virus is for athletes to restrict travel and self-quarantine.
When I read the reports of the National Basketball Association postponing its season for a minimum of 30 days, subject to change depending on the future state of the virus, and the National College Athletics Association ending all of its national tournaments for the year, I wondered how this may affect Canadian university sports. As updates and articles shared information about major sports leagues, the Ontario University Athletics and U Sports had yet to release statements on how they were going to factor the coronavirus into their decision-making.
University and college cancellations across Ontario began on March 12 and 13 with Western University, McMaster University, Mohawk College and others cancelling in-person classes and student events for the remainder of the semester. The U Sports association then followed suit, cancelling that weekends’ scheduled national championships in volleyball and hockey, but continuing with the curling championships.
U Sports’ championships require competing varsity teams to travel to chosen host locations. The volleyball championship was set to take place in Winnipeg and Calgary over the weekend of March 14 to 16 and the hockey championships to take place in Halifax and Charlottetown over that same weekend.
Both of these tournaments were expecting teams from across the country to attend, from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island. This potentially heightened the risk of spreading the virus. To limit the spread of COVID-19, Canadians have been advised to avoid international non-essential travel; while the travel measures announced on March 16 did not include domestic flights, the situation is continuously changing from day to day. Recently, airlines such as Air Canada began suspending domestic flights.
This begs the question of why the U Sports National Championships for curling were not cancelled. This tournament involved universities from all over the country such as McMaster University, University of Dalhousie and the University of Alberta, and took place the very same weekend as the aforementioned volleyball and hockey tournaments.
At the time of writing this article, U Sports had yet to post any material on their social media to answer those questions or comment on why they made contradictory decisions to cancel volleyball and hockey tournaments, while continuing the curling championships.
After having reached out to U Sports for a statement, John Bower of U Sports stated that the curling championships had been in line with government regulations at the time.
“The total number of participants in the Curling championship was inferior to the 250 established by the Government of Manitoba on Thursday and therefore was allowed by the Province to continue and had begun prior to the cancellation of the hockey and volleyball championships,” said Bower.
It is important to keep in mind that the volleyball championships, which were also planned to take place in Manitoba, and the hockey championships in Prince Edward Island were cancelled.
The following was the response to my questions about their tournament handlings:
While these precautions seemed to be adequate at the time of the curling tournament’s start date on March 10, the tournament would go on to see play for another five days. All the players and potential companions travelled in and out of the province over this time.
The representative from U Sports said that Curling Canada was able to guarantee a safe and secure environment for the curling championships to take place. As we have seen the pandemic continue to spread, it seems that it would have been very difficult to guarantee anything. The tournament should have been shut down.
The U Sports national championships was not alone in the building. The event coincided with the Senior Men’s and Women’s Championships, the Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA)/Curling Canada Championships.
The amount of people at any given time in the arena might have been under the mandated 250 person limit, but this limit became quickly outdated as the Centre for Disease Control lowered the limit to no more than 50 people just one day after the tournament finished on March 16. Considering the curling teams, general fans and family members that were in attendance, it is unlikely that this limit was adhered to during the tournament.
The first red flag was that this tournament was continued while the other national tournaments were cancelled. The second red flag was that there was no postponing or cancelling as the tournament progressed. Just as COVID-19 spread across the country, the red flags spread across this event.