The provincial government announced a new wave of restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 on Jan. 3, and with the new regulations, the Ontario University Athletics season — and likely the entire U Sports calendar — is once again in jeopardy.
U Sports and the OUA, despite funneling countless Olympians into Canada’s national teams and supporting many future stars, have been once again placed on the back burner and swept aside without any alternative planning or assistance from the powers that be.
Despite the continuation of leagues parallel to the OUA, such as the Canadian Hockey League, Canadian Premier League soccer or the Canadian Elite Basketball League, Ontario Premier Doug Ford did not include the conference among the list of organizations that are considered “elite amateur sports leagues”, meaning it will not continue in spite of the new provincial regulations.
This is not only a lazy and unsatisfactory explanation to avoid devising an actual plan to keep the OUA playing, but it is a slap in the face to a league that plays a large role in nurturing the development of the nation’s highest level athletes.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, 29 per cent of the Canadian athletes who competed had some sort of tie to a U Sports organization. Similarly, at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, that number sat at 27 per cent. Tessa Virtue, John Morris and Eric Radford are just a few OUA athletes who came home from those games with medals in tow.
And yet, the conference has been deemed expendable.
The #OUA is, by all definitions, 𝗘𝗟𝗜𝗧𝗘. Behind the scenes, on the sidelines, and certainly, on the playing field, this recognition is well-deserved for the talented individuals that make up the conference. See ⬇️ for full statement.#WeAreONE | #OUAisELITE— Ontario University Athletics (@OUAsport) January 4, 2022
Beyond the national importance that U Sports and OUA athletics have to the future of Canadian athletics, the more outrageous aspect of the Ontario government’s decision is how it affects the thousands of OUA athletes who have worked their entire lives to get where they are.
I have seen just how much pride these athletes have in achieving and competing at such a high level. To disrespect their efforts and their commitment to their craft by designating them as an amateur organization that does not deserve to be prioritized means the Ontario government is turning their back on a group of student-athletes who are already hampered at every turn.
Most athletes, especially those in less “mainstream” athletics, are participating without a crumb of government support. Sports like rugby or cross-country, where athletes participate without a substantial scholarship or a well-established route to a more professional level after graduation — many train, play and equip themselves on their own dollar.
The least the provincial government can do is make an effort to keep them playing.
Many of these athletes have already had a season cancelled when the 2020 OUA calendar was scrapped due to the coronavirus. But throughout the ensuing months, many other organizations have proven that it is possible to continue playing with safety protocols in place.
The government’s decision disregards these facts in favour of taking the easy way out. OUA athletes, coaches and organizers deserve to be more than an afterthought.
If there is still a desire for the Ontario government to uphold the high standards of play that the OUA has established over its storied history, then there needs to be a concrete plan implemented that will allow the country’s top university athletes to get back in the game.