The confusion around the future of rugby in Nova Scotia high schools came to an end on Tuesday as the province and the province’s high school athletic federation announced they have reached a solution that will see students continue to take to the field.
“Rugby Nova Scotia has agreed to manage the rest of this rugby season, including regionals and provincials,” read a joint statement by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) and the province’s Department of Education.
Nova Scotia’s education minister told Global News on Tuesday that he was happy players will continue to play on the pitch.
“We know how committed our rugby community in Nova Scotia is to the game,” said Zach Churchill.
The education department and the NSSAF had been at an impasse since last week when the NSSAF distributed a memo to all of the province’s schools saying that rugby would no longer be covered under the federation’s insurance policy.
That rift continued to grow after Churchill issued a statement on Friday calling on the federation to reinstate rugby in the province’s schools. Churchill’s directive followed a backlash from players, politicians and Rugby Canada.
WATCH: (May 3, 2019) Protests over the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation’s decision to ban rugby for the high school level continued on Friday.
On Monday, two memos obtained by Global News alleged that the Churchill statement had “not resolved the issue.”
But on Tuesday, the two sides met behind closed doors to hammer out a deal.
The department said that over the summer, it will work with medical experts, the federation and Rugby Nova Scotia — the sport’s governing body in the province — to review safety concerns. In the meantime, the sport, though unsanctioned by the federation, will be approved for coverage under the province’s School Insurance Program.
“I don’t anticipate any sports being on the chopping block, but we do want to look at safety standards and evaluate our options on those,” said Churchill, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting in Truro, N.S.
WATCH: Nova Scotia high school rugby remains in limbo
For those who play the sport, Tuesday’s decision is a welcome change to the past week’s uncertainty.
Tashayla Tynes, a member of the Citadel High School rugby team said that high school rugby provides young women with the chance to practice — potentially allowing them to improve and play for a university team.
“So if the ban never let up, say for the future, the future wouldn’t have led to our provincial teams or even for scouts to look at new players for university,” said Tynes.
“I was just really happy because it’s our senior year and I wouldn’t want to miss it out because our team is so close and our team already loves the sport after five games.”
Cathey Deveaux, coach of the Citadel High rugby team, said she was proud of how the Nova Scotia rugby community went out and fought to preserve the sport.
“There might have been some expectations that this would go quietly into the night. I think the girls made sure that that did not happen,” she said.
“I’m hoping, in the long run, we’re at a better place. Both from the sport within high school and the sport in general.”
Stephen MacNeil, chairman of the athletic federation’s board of governors, said Tuesday that the federation is comfortable letting Rugby Nova Scotia take over management of the sport.
“We’re thrilled that they are taking it on,” he told the Canadian Press. “They expressed a desire to get more involved. We have been working with them on certain initiatives, especially with coaches’ education and other things in the past.”
MacNeil said the federation is looking forward to discussing the safety of all sports with experts and the government, but he stopped short of saying rugby would be permanently reinstated.
“They can apply to become part of our program, and it will all depend what comes out of the safety meetings and what things are put in place to make rugby a safer sport for high-school-age students,” he said.
For his part, Churchill said he doesn’t question the federation’s intentions.
“We know that they were making a call that they believed was in the best interests of student safety, and all of us should appreciate that,” he said.
—With files from the Canadian Press