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COVID-19 Phase 2 and what it means to Winnipeg’s professional and amateur sports

Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba’s phase 2 plan of reopening economy laid out by premier
WATCH: Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced Thursday the draft plan of reopening, including resuming organized activities and team sports.

On Thursday Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced his government was stepping up the time table when it comes to loosening restrictions put in place to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Manitobans should remain vigilant around care homes during COVID-19: seniors’ advocate

The “Restoring Services Phase Two Draft Plan” includes professional sports teams being allowed to open their training facilities as early as Friday.

“Players, coaches, managers, training staff and medical personnel employed by or affiliated with a professional sports team may attend at the team’s facilities for the purposes of training and practicing, provided that no members of the public are permitted to enter those facilities.”

There was also a separate statement from the government for the resumption of organized activities, which stated “as long as precautions are taken, such as physical distancing and enhanced cleaning of equipment and indoor spaces. Each sports organization and/or facility must establish a plan for how to minimize physical contact between participants.”

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The information included on the province’s website also said there would be guidance on performing a risk assessment for different sports and establishing plans posted online as soon as possible.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Draft plan of Phase 2 released for Manitoba, but no date confirmed

So while the announcement is being welcomed as a step in the right direction, by no means will it result in a flood of activity at the Blue Bombers, Jets, Goldeyes and Valour FC training facilities.

In a statement, the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers said: “We are encouraged by today’s news that professional sports facilities are permitted to reopen in Manitoba as per the guidance and direction of our public health officials. We will however wait for the final confirmation from the CFL to allow teams to reopen their facilities.”

There is also the issue of bringing in athletes from outside the province, and the country for that matter, who play for the Blue Bombers. With the CFL not even slated to begin play until early September — if all goes well — there wouldn’t seem to be a rush for any of that to happen.

READ MORE: CFL looking at September start, Regina no longer guaranteed 2020 Grey Cup host

The logistical challenges of gathering the troops are similar for the Winnipeg Jets, but on a global scale with some of their players still in Europe.

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement: “We are appreciative of the efforts of the provincial government and really all Manitobans as we do our best to combat COVID-19 and flatten the curve. We will take the information released [May21] as part of Phase 2 and communicate further with Dr. Roussin and his staff, along with the province, to further understand it. At the same, while continuing to follow the health and safety standards that have already been laid out, we will await further instructions on possible return to play protocols from the National Hockey League.”
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There are reports the NHL and the Players Association are reviewing a format that would see 24 teams, including the Jets, being a part of the league’s ‘return to play’ plan, but no timetable is in place at this point.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets offering season ticket holders refunds for missed games due to coronavirus

Goldeyes General Manager Andrew Collier says with no players in Winnipeg, the opening of training facilities is a non-factor from their perspective. However, he added via a text message, “I am happy that Manitoba has done well battling this virus and I’m happy to see things starting to reopen.”

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Back on April 21, the American Association announced it was hoping to begin an abbreviated 80-game schedule sometime in early July, but has not updated its status since then.

Valour FC pretty much echoed the sentiments of the parent Blue Bombers, in terms of being encouraged by the announcement, but electing to wait for direction from the Canadian Premier League. Coach and General Manager Rob Gale did add, “We’re eagerly hoping and waiting for the ability to go back and do what we all love, but we’ll continue to follow the advice and guidelines of our league and medical specialists they’re diligently consulting with.”

Perhaps the biggest benefactors of the announcement will be amateur sport which can modify its various schedules to be played in province. Sport Manitoba CEO Jeff Hnatiuk says most provincial sports bodies have been busy putting together ‘return to play’ models, so they would have been prepared. But Hnatiuk adds that by no means will the seasonal sports be up and running by early next week.

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“It’s a positive development, but one that also needs to be dealt with cautiously.”

“Safety is top of mind, but it can only be good news for the opportunity for Manitobans to get back to being active and participating,” Hnatiuk said in a phone interview.

Photo of Sport Manitoba CEO Jeff Hnatiuk supplied by Sport Manitoba.

Hnatiuk says there will also be an affordability factor for some sports to meet specific protocols, and having facilities on board as well. Below is a list of some of the guidelines that should be followed from the Government of Manitoba website.

  • Continue to offer virtual instruction or training where possible.
  • Individuals must use the self-screening tool before reporting to work, and should stay home when ill.
  • Individuals must be screened for symptoms prior to participation each day of the activity, and are not allowed to participate if they are ill with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • If indoors, hand hygiene stations should be placed at the entrance and strategically throughout the facility.
  • Shared equipment must be cleaned frequently. This can be done by participants, but staff should ensure this is being done regularly.
  • Individuals are given information on social distancing. Indoor facilities must post signs indicating physical distancing guidelines.
  • Ensure enhanced cleaning of indoor facilities, particularly washrooms.
  • Encouraging individuals to shower at home and limit use of locker area.
  • Removing any common use items from locker rooms.
  • Posting signage for guidance on shower area use to maintain physical distancing.
  • If locker rooms are used, consider modifying their use in order to maintain physical distancing.
  • As well, a disinfectant spray or wipes should be available for participants to disinfect locker contact surfaces before and after use.
  • Enhanced and frequent cleaning and disinfection of locker rooms will be required.
  • Areas of congregation (e.g. team benches, pool edges) will require creative solutions to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. This can be done in consultation with provincial and national sport-specific COVID-19 guidance, where applicable.