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Ontario student athletes petitioning government to open training facilities

The current restrictions in Ontario prohibit training in university facilities, as well as indoor meets until at least Jan. 27

The Toronto Track and Field Centre was home to the fastest ever women's indoor marathon.

In the pre-pandemic era, the beginning of January marked a return to the OUA and OCAA season for many student-athletes, but on Jan. 3, the gov’t of Ontario announced new province-wide restrictions in response to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, placing a ban on all non-elite sports until the end of January. Athletes across the province are signing a petition for the provincial government to lift restrictions on university and collegiate sports in Ontario to be defined as an “elite-level” sport. 

The government’s decision stated that ‘elite-level sports’ can continue to play – the Toronto Six and Toronto Raptors can play, Olympians and Paralympians can continue to prep for Beijing. But, OUA and OCAA coaches and student-athletes are left off the playing field. The current restrictions in Ontario prohibit training in university facilities, as well as indoor meets until at least Jan. 27

U Sports, OUA and AUS cancel fall sport seasons

U of T Women
The University of Toronto Women’s Track & Field team at the 2015 (CIS) U Sports Indoor Championship in Windsor, Ont.

At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there were 37 current and past OUA athletes who represented Team Canada (incl. runners Madeleine Kelly, Lucia Stafford, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Julie-Anne Staehli and Alicia Brown).

Before Christmas, Ontario University Sport (OUA) announced they were going to halt all winter competitions due to the ongoing spread of Omicron until Jan. 24, but at that time, athletes were still allowed to practice using university facilities depending on the university’s regulations surrounding Omicron. 

The recent announcement leaves OUA athletes without a place to train.

McMaster Indoor Track
Photo: Pete Self.

Andrew Davies is an elite-level distance runner with the McMaster Marauders Track & Field team, who has represented Canada at the junior level. “Since we don’t have a useable indoor facility at McMaster, our team was commuting to Guelph once a week to use an indoor track,” Davies says. “The recent restrictions from the government have left us without options in preparation for the indoor season.” 

Mitch Ubene of Guelph pulls off the upset to win the men’s U Sports title

Several OUA-governed indoor track and field meets were supposed to take place in January but have since been cancelled. Many university athletic departments are pushing for their facilities to be opened for varsity teams.

Andrew Davies of McMaster University at the 2021 Bayfront XC Invitational. Photo: Kevin MacKinnon

For some senior student-athletes, this season marks their last year of OUA eligibility. “It’s been difficult to plan for races with the uncertainty of the season,” Davies says. “If there were to be further cancellations into February our team would look into options of entering races south of the border.”

The petition for the Ontario provincial government to resume sport has currently gathered over 2,000 signatures. You can sign the petition here.