Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
On the surface, the province's Phase 2 reopening plan sounds promising for most organized sports.
After all, the government website says "Sports and recreational activities for children and adults may resume" in bold. But after reading the paragraphs under that headline, you likely had more questions than answers.
Unfortunately, nobody at this time has all the answers, but to help paint a picture of what things may look like this summer, the Free Press reached out to a large number of provincial sports organizations to better understand what Phase 2 means for them.
All sports have been tasked with creating a return-to-play document and sending it to Sport Manitoba, which will then take it to the provincial government for approval. These documents will outline plans for these sports to be safely reintroduced in phases. It's unknown when the sports will hear a decision from the government.
Here's an update on what some sports are proposing and what their best-case scenario is for the summer:
Players are typically spaced out on a diamond, so baseball's outlook looks more promising than others. Baseball Manitoba executive director Jason Miller said their first phase will have full team training sessions that maintain social distancing.
"We firmly believe that due to the size of a baseball field and the skills and drills themselves, we can social distance within a practice while we're outside," Miller said.
They're hopeful training can begin in the next couple of weeks, leading to competition kicking off in July.
"That's the best-case scenario," Miller said. "Other scenarios may include training and practising is all we get to do in 2020. Although that's sad for some kids and wouldn't be an ideal situation, that might have to be OK as at least that way kids still get to develop and play the game they love. But ultimately, best case is we're playing some sort of modified season in July and August."
Baseball players are being asked to leave their sunflower seeds and gum at home. All players are expected to use their own equipment as well. The dugout won't be off-limits, but Miller is suggesting spaces will be allocated outside the dugout for players and coaches to stay at an appropriate distance apart. The game itself, however, should be business as usual.
"We have submitted a plan that states we think we can play our game the way it is with social distancing, which allows for brief exchanges. We believe that tag plays and things like that may be allowed. We're going to wait and see if the government agrees," said Miller.
All signs are currently pointing towards the NBA resuming play later this summer, but Basketball Manitoba executive director Adam Wedlake said it's a different story for the local hoopsters.
"Of all the sports in Manitoba, we may be one of the last to return to "normal" or the "new normal" as it's being called," Wedlake said. "So long as there is a social-distancing component in any health regulations, we won't see basketball come back to how we all know it until that changes or science catches up."
For now, the focus is on getting small training groups approved, but don't expect any rebounding drills or scrimmages. The first stage for organized basketball will have one player and ball per hoop, with only one coach on the court. With schools and community centres currently closed, the options are limited to outdoor courts.
"The intimate nature of our sport with players in very close proximity, let alone team benches, locker rooms, spectators, minor officials and referees, makes any return to competition pretty far off into the future for us," Wedlake said.
The province has already given bowls the stamp of approval to return to play, but several measures have been taken to make the game safer.
Players may only touch their own bowls and games will be limited to singles or pairs play (no triples or fours). Clubhouses will also limit the number of people inside while increasing the sanitization of equipment and facilities. The rules of the game remain the same, but things such as scoreboards can only be touched by one person each game and they must be sanitized before the next group jumps in.
"Since lawn bowls is a very social activity, the more difficult issue will be the lack of socialization before and after their games," said Bowls executive director Cathy Derewianchuk.
"The majority of our bowlers are in the 70-plus age bracket and have been social distancing for the past few months, so they are excited to return to play but are also very cautious about getting started."
The board of directors will be meeting on June 11 to discuss their next steps and what leagues may look like this season.
The Manitoba Soccer Association's RTP is currently in the hands of Canada Soccer. Once the national governing body gives it the thumbs up, it will be sent to Sport Manitoba.
Even if the RTP is quickly approved by all the parties, there will be no organized soccer in early June. The MSA has indicated to their members that it will take an additional two weeks after approval to inform everyone of the guidelines and get the fields ready for action. But it could be a while before any matches are played on those fields, according to MSA executive director Héctor Vergara.
"At the end of the day, there will be no games until the health authorities say we can actually have close proximity... We're calling it 'return to participate' because it's not return to play. Return to play implies that you're playing games and league competition. That's not what it is... Stage 1 is come back on the pitch and start to do individual skills, exercises and drills and have smaller groups and control the number of people in the facility."
Matches won't be played until the MSA is in Stage 3 of their RTP. As for the timetable on the stages, Vergara said that is up in the air.
"Maybe that Stage 1 lasts one week. Maybe it lasts two weeks. Maybe it lasts a month... It's all based on how the health authorities are telling us things are moving along."
The warm weather doesn't last for long in Manitoba, so it's no secret the clock is ticking on softball.
Softball Manitoba executive director Don Klym said the RTP document has been sent and they're hopeful they'll get an answer from the government by early next week. If softball is given the green light, Klym said it's possible the first two weeks of June will be used to educate their leagues and members on the new precautions.
Many of the things are similar to baseball's plan, but it appears softball is taking some extra measures.
Softball is asking players to only use the dugouts to enter and exit the field. Players and their equipment have to be on the outside of the dugout and they must stay six feet apart from their teammates. Also, don't be surprised if games feel a bit longer this summer as they're proposing game balls be sanitized after each out/play.
Despite the Phase 2 announcement, Volleyball Manitoba has suspended all sanctioned volleyball activities through June 30. Executive director John Blacher said they plan on finishing their RTP next week and the main priority is figuring out what they can do to make the beach game as safe as possible.
The sport presents some unique challenges as it's nearly impossible for teammates to maintain social distancing at all times on the court and players on both teams touch the same ball.
"None of the measures are going to bring the COVID measures to zero, right? That's impossible. But how do you minimize the risk as much as possible to the comfort level of the organization deciding to move ahead?" said Blacher.
Some of the ideas being discussed include limiting the number of balls used in matches and sanitizing them afterward. They're also looking at how they can effectively disinfect the nets. Neither of those things will change the way players play the game, but disallowing blocking sure would.
"Do we allow blocking or not allow blocking? In two on two, I think it's possible (to disallow it). In the youth leagues, they don't do a lot of it as it is. The adults obviously do it a lot more," Blacher said.
"Once we get to indoor six on six, that's probably not as realistic. But we're not there yet. Our phasing in is (focused on) outdoors is better than indoors and smaller groups versus larger groups."
Blacher was asked what's potentially in the cards for volleyball starting July 1.
"We could maybe see some beach in July if we decide to do that and if we're comfortable doing that," he said. "Is there a possibility some indoor could resume later? It's all speculation right now on that one."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.