Semiahmoo Peninsula sports organizations, including Ocean Athletics Track and Field Club, are preparing return-to-play guidelines in anticipation of COVID-19 restrictions loosening later this spring and summer. (Gordon Kalisch photo)

‘There’s no playbook for this’: South Surrey sports organizations await approval to return to play

Local associations planning for modified summer seasons as COVID-19 restrictions ease

South Surrey sports organizations are preaching preparation and patience while they – like others around the province – await the green light to return to action as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Last week, viaSport BC – an organization that promotes athletics across the province – forwarded a Return to Sport game plan to the provincial government for review. That report includes general guidelines for individual sports organizations to follow, though more specific plans – tailored for each provincial sport organization and each of its member clubs – will have to follow and be approved by the provincial health authorities before athletes and coaches can return to the field of play.

But while approvals move up and down the chain-of-command, local clubs have been doing their due diligence, coming up with plans so they can hit the ground running sometime later this spring or in early summer.

While fall and winter sports have a bit more of a runway to work with in formalizing plans, sports that would normally be well underway now – from softball and track-and-field to spring soccer programs – have little time to waste.

“We’re just waiting… but once we start up, we’ll go. We’re ready,” said Maureen de St. Croix, the head coach of South Surrey-based Ocean Athletics track and field club.

As soon as the club is asked for its own return-to-play plan, they’ll submit it to BC Athletics, she added, which, when approved, would mean permits to operate in the city would follow.

The competitive track season has already been scrapped – the provincial guideline that bans gatherings of more than 50 people would make track-and-field competitions impossible, de St. Croix said – but the club would hold modified practice sessions throughout July and August once allowed.

”Our biggest problem is going to be retraining the public because they can’t be there. We’ll have 50 people here already (between athletes and coaches), so you can’t be here – sorry,” she said. “But we’ll deal with that when we know our date. Hopefully soon we’ll get things back and going.”

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South Surrey’s Coastal FC soccer club finds itself in the same position, waiting for approvals from health and sport authorities, though executive director Chris Murphy says they’re ready to launch a new Safe Soccer program the instant they’re allowed to.

The club has already posted videos to its YouTube channel, explaining to member families what a return to play might look like. It won’t include traditional games, but instead small training groups – with players properly distanced – with a focus on individual skill development.

“We kind of got out ahead of it… we’re kind of ready. We don’t want a restart gap,” he said, adding that the club has also been running a virtual academy program, with training and coaching happening through Zoom video-conferencing calls.

About half the participants that had originally registered for the spring soccer season have converted their registrations to the Safe Soccer program, Murphy added.

“So far, the buy-in has generally been pretty good. People accept that it’s not the same nature of the sport that they’re used to, but they realize it’s the best we can offer at this time. And they want something to get their kids involved in,” Murphy said.

“It’s not so much about the sport as it is about getting kids some safe, social interaction and some physical activity.”

• READ ALSO: Coastal FC Walking Soccer program takes first steps

A return to real, competitive game action – even in some modified form – likely wouldn’t take place without a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment options, Murphy said, though he did suggest face masks may factor into soccer’s return at some point.

“I’m just speculating… but I think there’s going to be people looking at masks that are sport-friendly – ones that do the trick from a transmission standpoint but also provide some level of breath-ability,” he said.

“I suspect that will become part of our equipment, not unlike shin pads, until a vaccine is available… but I’ll leave that for the medical professionals to decide.”

While there does appear to be light at the end of a long tunnel – a feeling that began for many when the province moved into the next phase of its re-opening plan following the May long weekend – there are still plenty of hurdles to clear, from insurance and liability issues to the usual red tape that inevitably results when multiple organizations and governments work together.

“Everyone is trying to formalize a plan… it can never be fast enough, but obviously there’s no playbook for this, and everybody is trying to do the best they can under a pretty difficult set of circumstances,” Murphy said.

Even though the traditional start of the hockey season is still months away, Semiahmoo Minor Hockey has joined a work group with other Lower Mainland minor-hockey associations, where weekly discussions centre on “what the season may or may not look like,” according to Semiahmoo executive director Dave Newson.

Newson said group members have been “working hard to push” facility partners and governing organizations to work together to come up with “creative solutions.”

“There seems to be a real appetite to get kids back to activity. Of course, we all want safety to be the priority, but there is definitely strong demand,” he said.

Newson called progress on a return-to-the-ice plan “encouraging.”

Murphy agreed that safety is paramount, which is why Coastal is not pressuring anyone to return before they’re comfortable, regardless of when play resumes.

“We’ve taken the approach that there will be a wide range of views from people about what’s happening, and we’re going to be sensitive to how people are feeling about their own situations,” he said.

“At the end of the day, what we can control is we can make the soccer club operational for people who feel confident and comfortable to return to play, when we can. And we’ll be understanding of those who don’t feel that way yet.

“We’ll just let them know that we’re here for them, and we’re ready to have them back when the time is right for them to get back on the field.”

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