Many members of Airdrie’s sports community are frustrated following the Alberta government’s Nov. 12 directive to temporarily suspend team and club sports for two weeks.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the two-week interruption, alongside a slate of other new measures, in an attempt to limit the current spike of COVID-19 in the province. The suspension, which applies to recreational teams and clubs that compete and train indoors, will be in effect until Nov. 27.
"This two-week push is, I believe, our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures that I and most Albertans desperately want to avoid," Kenney said.
"If we focus our efforts for the next two weeks and embrace these common-sense measures, we can reduce the spread and protect our hospital system."
Many of Airdrie’s sports groups were shocked by the announcement. Christie Cameron, president of the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) – the city’s largest youth sports organization – said members were disappointed upon hearing the news.
“I feel we’ve been proactive and responsible in following all the guidelines that Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the City of Airdrie had placed on us, yet still, we’re the ones being shut down,” she said.
In addition to the frustration of the interruption, Cameron said the halt in operations and the “unknowns” of whether the suspension will be temporary or extended will put added logistical stress on AMHA this season. The association has more than 1,400 registered athletes.
“If it is only two weeks, it will be a pause and maybe we won’t need to go through the headaches of refunds or layoffs, because we employ three people, but if the season is officially cancelled, the uncertainty of what’s to come causes a lot of stress,” she said.
The new directive applies to several local clubs, including associations that offer soccer, ringette, basketball, volleyball and curling programs.
“Obviously, it was a bit of a surprise in terms of how quickly we heard the news and it was implemented," said Jamie Dorgan, vice-president of the Airdrie and District Soccer Association (ADSA). "As of today, we don’t have any soccer, which is tough for us because we have programming going on every day, evening and weekend. It’s tough for our members. But we have to do our part to help stem the spread.”
Dorgan said ADSA has approximately 800 players registered this winter who are impacted by the suspension. He said some families have already expressed their frustration.
"A lot of people feel it’s not necessarily the spot where we’re seeing a lot of spread, from these group sports," he said. "I know we’ve been running programs for about a month and have a lot of things in place within the sport cohorts to make sure we’re as safe as we can possibly be. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been any spread from within our organization.”
The interruption not only applies to team sports but also some individual sports. Alexx Diep, a coach with the Nose Creek Swim Association (NCSA), said the Airdrie-based club has put practices on hold, though he added they are awaiting word from Swim Alberta as to whether or not swimming is included within the government's directive.
“Swimming is unique in the sense that we’re an individual sport, but we train and behave such as a team sport because of the size of our cohort," he said. "We don’t know if there is any unique exemption there that needs to be addressed."
Diep said the initial reaction from club members was a mixture of confusion and anger. He said the club has been diligent in following sanitization and safety protocols established by Swim Canada and Genesis Place Recreation Centre, where the club trains.
He added some of the club’s members felt the sporting community is being treated unfairly, pointing out other group activities like dining, shopping and social gatherings are still allowed.
“The kids have done a fantastic job following all the guidelines and safety measures,” he said. “[There are some] really strong stats on how well the swimming community has been doing. It’s confusing for the kids to see those very healthy numbers and then have to shut down. In their eyes, they didn’t do anything wrong, but they internalize a lot and they reflect a lot on themselves. Some of them are confused because they don’t get why they’re being punished.”
With two weeks of no swim practices, Diep said NCSA coaches will reorganize the club’s processes back to the online form of engagement the club did in the spring, during the initial shutdown.