By Kieran Heffernan
As Ottawa’s two English language boards look to revise their back-to-school plans according to new Ministry of Education guidelines, many students and parents might be wondering what extracurricular sports will look like as well.
Elementary students are returning to school full time, while high schoolers should be in class 50 per cent of the time, according to the Ministry. Masks are required for students in Grade 4 and up. Elementary students stay in the same classroom with teachers rotating between classes, while high school students have their year divided into quadmesters, taking two classes at a time.
As for school athletics, the OCDSB’s website says team sports and intramurals will not take place to start the year, and “The four school boards will work together with public health and provincial guidelines to determine start up time for athletics.”
Meanwhile, the OCDSB said “Individual sports may continue with proper hygiene and physical distance in place, as long as this does not impact cohorts that have been put in place as a health and safety measure” in their back to school plan document. Team sports are still on hold.
The CEPEO has also cancelled sports until further notice, while CECCE says only individual sports are allowed.
On August 12, OFSAA president Nick Rowe posted a statement saying that fall championships and festivals taking place in October and November were cancelled. No decision has been made yet for winter and spring OFSAA events.
Outside of schools, sports clubs are slowly reopening with safety measures in place. But the various requirements and concerns can be overwhelming to keep track of. To help gather and organize the abundance of information out there, the Ottawa Sport Council and 70 of its members created the Ottawa Return to Play Roadmap.
Marcia Morris, the executive director of the Ottawa Sport Council, said that after they realized the pandemic was not going away anytime soon, sports leaders were asked what they needed most. Their answer was return to play plans, and so the Roadmap was created.
It isn’t just a resource for sports organizations, however.
“The target audience really is anybody who’s interested in returning to play,” Morris said. “Parents can find a whole bunch of information to understand what they might be facing when they send their children back to sport, and how it might look different. Volunteers who want to get involved will want to look at it and say okay, what are the best practices that I should be looking for if I’m going to volunteer with an organization.”
The Roadmap aims not to produce new information, but to make what other organizations have created more accessible.
“At the end of the day, there was so much good information out there. There was no requirement for us to have to create Ottawa specific information because what’s been produced is applicable to anybody,” Morris said.
There are eight different “stops” along the road map. They cover a range of topics, from Sport Specific Guidelines, which has documents from local, provincial, and national sport organizations like Ottawa River Canoe Club and Swimming Canada, to Risk Management & Legal, which provides examples of waivers, contact tracing logs, and COVID-19 self-declarations.
The section Morris anticipates as being relevant for the longest time is Sustainability & Affordability. Currently, the page is under construction, but soon it will contain information on the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s COVID-19 relief grant, which will be contributing $83 million to six sectors, including sport. According to Morris, this is one of the first sources of sustainability funding for sports that is out there right now.
“One of the big challenges that’s out there for community sport organizations is right now there aren’t a lot of different avenues for which they can follow,” she said. “The ones that were out there, like the CERB and the wage subsidy and the CEBA, those things most people have taken advantage of to stem the bleeding. But in terms of recovery, there aren’t a lot of supports out there that exist for community sports organizations right now.”
Another point emphasized by the Roadmap is the importance of sport particularly during these difficult times.
“It helps with our mental health, it helps with our physical health, and right now, in terms of that sort of help, because of the pandemic I think it’s required more than ever,” Morris explained.