To put it simply, COVID-19’s impact on sport delivery in Saskatchewan has been major.
This week, generally, marks the one-year anniversary of pandemic restrictions in Canada, and more specifically, in Saskatchewan. At this point last year, schools closed, stay-at-home restrictions were introduced, and sport participation was suspended. One year has passed and restrictions are still in place for those who are involved in sport.
I will be sharing the perspectives of five Saskatchewan provincial sport organizations – Football Sask, Sask Volleyball, Golf Saskatchewan, Ringette Saskatchewan, and Saskatchewan Soccer – in three parts. First, we will learn about the changes they’ve had to make to sport delivery. Next, we’ll discuss COVID-19’s impact on sport delivery for their sports. Lastly, we’ll learn about the insights they’ve gained about their sports because of the pandemic. This week in Part 1, we’ll learn about the changes these sport organizations have had to make to deliver their sport.
Changes - All Year Long
Governments, national sport organizations, and provincial sport organizations began implementing restrictions for sport in the middle of March last year, with a full suspension of all play for the spring. On June 22, 2020, sports were able to return to operations if they had an approved return to play plan. On November 20, 2020, all team sport activities were suspended again. Individual conditioning/training and individual sport activities were allowed if participants were masked and physical distancing was maintained. Restrictions will continue until April 5, 2021. The provincial government will reassess the ongoing restrictions and determine whether it is safe to return to play then.
Each of the sport organizations spoke of how the year required constant pivoting and updating of plans. They spoke of double and triple checking rules and seeking clarification so that they could give their members accurate information. They heightened communication with members so that everyone had the information they needed to operate as safely as possible. The sport organizations spoke of stress and frustration, and they also spoke of hope and optimism.
Football is a sport that runs outside during spring, summer, and fall months. Government restrictions meant that tackle football, which normally operates with large teams, had to downsize team sizes and stop playing games. As a result, Football Sask experienced an influx of members into its non-contact discipline, flag football. Many clubs who normally ran contact football programs shifted to the delivery of flag football. New leagues began and existing leagues increased in size. New people registered for these programs. This included large numbers of girls and women and other demographics that haven’t traditionally played this discipline before. Many new people were drawn to the game.
Sask Volleyball operates indoor club volleyball throughout the winter, and beach volleyball outdoor in the summer. To play the sport, small teams of eight have been training in home or neighbouring communities. Travelling to other communities to train or compete has not been allowed. Sask Volleyball and Volleyball Canada had to cancel last year’s provincial and national tournaments, which normally run in April and May. Fingers are crossed but optimism is dwindling that nationals will happen later this summer. There is hope that beach volleyball will be able to operate this summer, with mini leagues and tournaments operating in communities across the province.
Golf had a slightly different story. The sport was one of the first activities approved to resume operations by the provincial government last spring. Actual delivery of the sport didn’t change very much. Pool noodles were fitted into ball cups so that balls could be easily retrieved at all holes and tee times were scheduled every ten minutes instead of every eight. A new competition was introduced: trying to get a booking to play! Almost every course in the province was busy from sunup to sundown. Clubs had record numbers, and lots of small-town clubs had their best year ever. Golf Saskatchewan is hopeful that when restrictions are lifted again this spring, playing regulations will be the same as how they ended off last season.
Ringette, a sport played on ice throughout the winter, was challenged to make this year’s season work, and had to organize several different arrangements as pandemic regulations changed. Last fall, ringette teams could play in mini leagues of 50 participants or less, with 30 individuals on the ice at a time. Participants could only participate in one mini league, coaches could participate in multiple mini leagues if they were socially distant, and officials could participate in more than one mini league if they wore a mask and were socially distant. As cases increased, restrictions about how to play did as well. Presently, ringette participants are training on ice, masked, 3 meters apart. Westerns and nationals were cancelled last year and are cancelled again this year.
Soccer is a sport that operates year-round. During the outdoor season, more rural members participate in the spring, while urban members operate through the summer. In the indoor season (throughout the winter), soccer operates in larger communities where there is access to facilities. Every organization was required to prepare a ‘return to soccer’ plan and complete an assessment tool to determine how prepared they were. Clubs could choose at which stage they wanted to resume play, based on their comfort with the regulations and safety protocols. Teams were able to play with less people on the field during the summer, but since November, small youth groups have been holding team training, while adults have not been able to play at all. Provincials and nationals were also cancelled last year, but there is some hope that nationals will be able to be held in the fall as usual. In other words, soccer has not been able to operate as soccer normally does.
Through these five sports, we’ve seen that COVID-19’s impact on sport delivery has been varied. Some sports have had minimal changes to delivery, while other sports have had to make major overhauls to how their sport is delivered. Next week we will learn what impact, positive or negative, the pandemic had on these sports. Tune in for Part 2, released next Thursday.
Photo Credit: Michael Scraper