Thousands of athletes lost a year of their Ontario University Athletics careers, and while suspending championships is necessary for the health and well-being of the general public, it doesn’t make the decision any easier for student athletes.
On Oct. 15, OUA and USports cancelled all sanctioned championship games until March 31, following June's cancellation of all fall games. Teams are still allowed to hold practices and play in exhibition games — arranged between individual teams that don’t count for championship titles — but even those are up in the air.
Cancelling sports is completely fair of both federations — the risks of gathering for championship games are just too high. For the good of the athletes and the communities they live in, the OUA made the right decision.
It’s easy to look at sports with a microscope and see all the different ways universities could implement measures to make them as safe as possible. But there’s a limit to how far those measures can go.
Yes, this absolutely sucks for athletes. Hard work and dedication will go unrewarded. For many fourth and fifth-year athletes, their last year at Western may be their last chance to play competitive sport. There’s no send-off or ring ceremony and no formal conclusion to their athletic careers. Athletes hoping to be recruited lost valuable face-time with scouts and potential new coaches.
Many students have already picked universities based on athletic programs that are no longer available, doubling the blow of uncut tuition and online courses. For many athletes, playing sports are a way to escape life's pressures, yet now they’re just another bubble of joy that COVID-19 has burst.
But, while it’s clear the OUA and USports were right to batten down the hatches until it’s safe to come out of the cellar — exhibition games may be another story and the Gazette’s editorial board was split on whether Western should join them this season.
On one hand, contact sports like hockey, football and wrestling are non-starters for any competition. With cases across Ontario rising, it’s not safe for students to be that close to opposing players — or even their teammates. Five members of the University of Ottawa football team tested positive last week, just one exhibition game could have turned that small outbreak into a public health disaster.
But, non-contact sports — like tennis, golf and curling — are a trickier matter. These athletes have few or no teammates and minimal encounters with opponents, so social distancing would be possible.
There’s also athletes’ well-being to consider. Playing their sports, even in exhibition games, can have huge mental health benefits for athletes, not to mention it would soften the hard hand they’ve been dealt this term.
The virus doesn’t discriminate between athletes and regular students. And whether Western chooses to participate in exhibition games or not, shutting down championships was an opportunity for the OUA and USports to be a step ahead of COVID-19, not two steps behind — and it was right to cancel them.