COVID-19: Training for combat sports returns in Quebec under strict conditions

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WATCH: From boxing to martial arts -- athletes in this tough sporting field are allowed back to the gyms to train and get ready for when tournaments are allowed to resume. Phil Carpenter reports – Sep 2, 2020

After months of waiting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, combat sports have finally resumed in Quebec.

All combat sports – from boxing to martial arts – had to be put on hold in March because of the pandemic.  Gyms were allowed to re-opened in June and most team sports in the province had already resumed, but Wednesday was the first time sparring was allowed, after the province’s minister for sports Isabelle Charest lifted restrictions.

“I know it must have been very frustrating,” Charest told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

Read more: Quebec combat sports athletes, federations fighting to get back in the ring

Boxer Celeste Baillargeon said it was for her, having just won the provincial championships in March and was preparing to compete for the Canadian title.

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“All that work,” she reflected during a workout session at Hard Knox gym in Montreal.  “It’s a big setback!”

Now she and other boxers Diizon Belfon, who also trains at Hard Knox, are trying to get their careers back on track and say they are willing to face the risk of catching the virus.

“I have some concerns, but this is a family,” he declared.  “This is my gym, this is my family!”

Boxing coach and gym owner Herby Whyne admits the risks are elevated because fighters are in close contact for long periods.

“We’re throwing punches and throwing a lot of fluids out of our bodies all the time,” he explained.  “We teach our boxers when you punch, breathe out!”

So in addition to normal hygiene protocols like hand washing, wearing a mask and keeping two metres apart when not fighting, sparring groups must be limited to four people, according to health authority guidelines. Whyne thinks that makes sense.

“For example, say these four people spar today and they don’t go to another gym to spar, then we know if something happens, it’s within these four people,” he explained.

Participants must also sign a consent form saying they understand the risks.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Quebec allows combat sports to resume with additional health rules

Quebec’s combat sports federations had been pushing health officials to allow them back in the ring.  With the current risk management plan in place, they got their wish.

“Now we feel comfortable with all the protocols that have been put in place,” said Charest.

Tournaments are still banned for the time being, but Baillargeon claims she doesn’t mind taking the blow.

“It’s the same thing for everyone,” she insisted, “so just seal with it, come back stronger!”