It was a tough day for Canadian university sports as Ontario University Athletics decided to cancel the reminder of the 2020-21 sports season on Oct. 15.

Western Mustangs student-athletes will now have to wait until August 2021 to compete again, assuming the OUA deems it safe to return.

However, Christine Stapleton, the director of sport and recreation at Western University, said Mustangs Athletics is still working hard to get back on the playing field as soon as they believe it is safe for their athletes.

“There's still an opportunity in January where it's safe and obviously allowed by the respective institution to compete,” stated Stapleton. “We have a very strong Return to Play plan that we'll continue to pivot and adjust on … this [decision] today certainly will hurt.”

Although Western is one of the few universities in Canada that suspended non-academic activities, the athletics department shares the same Return to Play plan as directed by provincial and national sport organizations as well as the Mustangs sport medical team.

Western differs from other schools as it paused in-person practices with a rise of coronavirus cases on campus since classes started.

While Mustangs Athletics continues to monitor the pandemic, Stapleton said student-athletes and coaches are still hard at work. Teams are using virtual platforms to communicate and log their training sessions as well as keeping up with their academic responsibilities during this extended off-season.

“Obviously, they're student-athletes so we do our academic mentoring and their focus on school is primary," explained Stapleton. “We're taking this as an opportunity to introduce a different curriculum to our student-athletes where we can work on their leadership.”

Kinduct, a digital athlete-monitoring program, became a major component of how Mustangs train virtually.

“[Kinduct] has become very central to the way we can monitor our student athletes and their strength and conditioning, their individual training and their mental health and wellness,” said Stapleton. “Now more than ever, the digital system of athlete-monitoring is more important. It's been extremely beneficial for our coaches to stay in-touch with their student-athletes.”

Coaches have also been affected by the cancellations. Since they’ve been away from the field, coaching staff have had more time to recruit for the fall 2021 season. 

Next year’s season is still in question as officials are unsure whether it will be safe for university sports, however, Stapleton said there is hope for their future athletes to play in the post-pandemic era.

“Obviously, the coaches are still recruiting like crazy because there will be sport after COVID-19 and part of maintaining the strong programs that we have is the robust recruiting that we do,” said Stapleton.

Stapleton explained the cancelled season will have no impact on the university’s decision to hold recreational activities and intramural competition this year.

Western has still not provided an update about athletic ancillary fees, specifically the Western Sport and Recreation Service fee, as many of the services it pays for are no longer available for students.

Looking forward to 2021, Stapleton explained how sport is going to be a critical part of the pandemic recovery at Western because of the university’s winning tradition and spirit for athletics.

“This virus is difficult to predict,” said Stapleton.

“I think we are looking forward though because we know that sport is such a core piece of the spirit tradition up here at Western. We don't know the timing yet ... we know that sport will play that pivotal role in our post-COVID-19 recovery; that inspiration and spirit that we're looking for on the other side of COVID-19.”

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