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The New Reality: COVID-19’s impact on playing and watching sports

Some N.B. professional leagues starting up again amid COVID-19
Some professional leagues are starting up again, but it will be a long time before we pack an arena for a game. Callum Smith reports.

This is the 14th in a series of stories looking at the new reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Maritimes. You can find the full series here.

One aspect of life impacted by COVID-19 has been sports, with many athletic competitions being put on hold or seasons cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.

The NHL, the NBA and MLB have all postponed their seasons, while the NFL has made no decision on delaying its season.

Read more: The New Reality — What will the future of sports look like?

Nova Scotia native Stephen Melanson was looking forward to seeing his first Montreal Canadiens game in their home rink, but that’s been put on hold.

“It was to be Montreal’s final home game of the season at the end of March,” he told Global News.

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“For me, this was a bucket list item.

“I’ve always wanted to see the Canadiens play, and to watch them in the Bell Centre would’ve been amazing.”

Nova Scotia sports plan return to the game amid COVID-19
Nova Scotia sports plan return to the game amid COVID-19

Changes big and small

While sports are starting up again, or at least planning to resume, one aspect that will likely be changed for the foreseeable future is how we consume sports.

Physical-distancing restrictions mean crowded stadiums and packed bars to watch the game likely won’t be possible in the near future.

Baseball Nova Scotia enters Phase 1 of Return to Play
Baseball Nova Scotia enters Phase 1 of Return to Play

Two high-profile sporting events that were to be played in Nova Scotia have also been shelved. The 2020 North American Indigenous Games have been postponed for the year and the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship has been cancelled.

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Some amateur and recreational leagues have called it quits for the season.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats were expected to make a run for the championship — and the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup — after building up their roster during the annual trade period.

But the rest of the season was cancelled in March before the playoffs could begin.

That news was a huge blow for Wildcats super fan Brent Daborn.

“I have my own pre-game routine where I listen to music and just get into focus mode for the games,” said the 24-year-old.

Brent Daborn, a huge Moncton Wildcats fan, says he’s lost a huge part of his social life with many live sports in Moncton cancelled or postponed
Brent Daborn, a huge Moncton Wildcats fan, says he’s lost a huge part of his social life with many live sports in Moncton cancelled or postponed. Callum Smith / Global News

Daborn attends every home game and follows the road games online. Always cheering on his favourite team, Daborn also loves the Moncton Fisher Cats senior baseball team.

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He can typically be spotted decked out in Wildcats colours and cheering loudly at the games. But the absence of sports has been difficult for him; the majority of his social life has been put on hold.

“People don’t have many accessible houses, so it’s not easy for me to go house-to-house,” he says.

HFX Wanderers FC introduce face masks in support of the United Way
HFX Wanderers FC introduce face masks in support of the United Way

Meanwhile, after their inaugural season that took Nova Scotia’s capital city and its fanbase by storm, the HFX Wanderers have resumed training.

The Candian Premier League club is preparing for a season that, if it gets going, will certainly look and feel different.

“It’s going to be a weird season for everyone,” says Alex de Carolis, a returning fullback with the club.

“You can’t use that as an excuse. That’s for all the leagues, all the leagues that start — they can’t use this year as an excuse for why you don’t perform.”

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Read more: ‘It was just amazing’ — A look back at the Raptors’ Finals victory 1 year later

This is typically a busy time of year for sports; two teams would normally be vying for the Stanley Cup in late May or early June. But the lack of live sports means it’s quieter in places where people would gather to cheer on their favourite team from afar.

“Before, there’d be a game on. There was always sports on late at night, so we always had large crowds later in the night,” says Tonya Taylor, the general manager of 5 Bridges Bar & Grill in Riverview, N.B. “Now, it dies down pretty quickly because there’s not much to watch other than the news.”

One thing is clear: sports — and the ways we enjoy the game — have certainly changed, at least, for now.