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Ontario's post-secondary sports organizations seek clarity on resuming play

Ontario's post-secondary sports organizations are seeking clarity about how and when they can resume competition in the province's COVID-19 reopening framework.

Ontario's post-secondary sports organizations are seeking clarity about how and when they can resume competition in the province's COVID-19 reopening framework.

Ontario University Athletics and the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association are meeting with senior staff in the province's ministry of sport about what needs to be done for them to return to play. Both organizations hope to begin competition when the new school year begins in September.

"We want to understand the requirements for us to get back and play this fall," said OUA president and CEO Gord Grace. "We're a little bit different because we're multi-sport, it's not just a sport, so our work is a little bit more complex."

OCAA president Nathan McFadden said that while it's true that post-secondary student-athletes have a couple of months before their regular seasons begin in September, the clarity is needed as soon as possible.

"Our student-athletes need to know what the season's going to look like, if there's going to be a season, especially when they're coming from another part of the province or the country," said McFadden. "There's certainly timelines here that are important to be able to provide them with information so they're able to make life decisions.

"They're moving and they're going to be getting apartments and things like that are all involved and it's very important that they have those answers in the short term and not the long term."

McFadden said he and other representatives from the OCAA were scheduled to meet with ministry staff on Thursday afternoon. Grace said he was set to meet with the same officials on Friday morning.

The two organizations were not included in Ontario's accelerated return-to-play plan when it was announced on Monday.

That plan set out a timeline for 18 professional and elite amateur leagues across six sports to resume competition as soon as late August.

McFadden said that although he was disappointed that post-secondary athletes weren't included in Monday's announcement, he understands that a safe COVID-19 reopening plan must be done in stages.

"It's not like we're forgotten," said McFadden. "They had to get that domino out of the way first, and then we're I think next in line."

Monday's announced plan also provided athletes in individual sports, including Canadian Olympians who live in Ontario, with safety guidelines for training in the province.

Grace said he was surprised when he heard as many of the 9,400 student-athletes that compete under his organization's umbrella will be able to train with other teams.

"Many of our athletes are on provincial teams and national teams and some get to go to the Olympics but certainly a lot of our coaches do as well," said Grace. "For us to not be considered elite was really quite confusing."

The two post-secondary sporting organizations represent 47 schools and more than 13,000 student-athletes. 

Grace said the combined budget of OUA sport, including recreational activities on its 20 campuses, is over $200 million.

"We're gladly part of the sport system, we just need equal opportunity to make sure that our plans will be accepted, so we're ready in September," said Grace.

"It's time for us to get back to playing sport in universities."

Ontario's ministry of sport did not immediately reply when asked for comment by The Canadian Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press