Okanagan town hall forum discusses evolving sports landscape

Adult/youth sports face challenges starting up again during COVID-19 pandemic

A virtual town hall meeting June 23 will discuss how sports activities across the Okanagan can be revived within the health safety restrictions currently imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event is co-sponsored by PacifcSport Okanagan and the viaSport Regional Alliance, intended to give various sports organizing bodies, coaches and parents direction and share information about how the 70-plus various sports in B.C. can start up again.

Shaunna Taylor, executive director of PacificSports Okanagan based in Kelowna, said a similar town hall forum was held June 4.

“We had 1,000 people sign up and 700 took part so it showed us there is quite a bid of demand from local sports organizations on how to move forward,” Taylor said.

“This next town hall is geared specifically to the Okanagan sports community, as there are some very different challenges faced her compared to an urban centre.”

Read More: Kelowna recreational sports start to return this summer

Read More: B.C. School Sports suspend spring season

Those challenges include the need for travel across the valley and seasonal weather changes that limit outdoor sports access to sports fields.

Taylor said insurance against COVID-19 potential civil lawsuits also presented a roadblock, one that Premier John Horgan eliminated earlier this month in announcing the province would assume insurance coverage responsibility for that concern among all organized sports.

“Insurance coverage for infectious disease related concerns was a big issue. Most sports organizations generally don’t have coverage for that issue to begin with. And you can imagine the challenge faced by a small local sports organization if forced to pay a $5,000 to $10,000 initial defence to being sued,” she said.

She described maneuvering the impact of COVID-19 on the sports community as something of a shifting target.

“There have been so many moving parts it has been exhausting over the last two, three months trying to keep up with the changes every week.

“Like everyone else, we are listening to what the provincial health officer says at her press conference everyday. Some of the things she says are pretty overt, cut and dried, and sometimes there are scenarios where some discretion is left up to organizers of a given sport.”

Taylor’s daughter, attending university on a field hockey sports scholarship, has felt that impact with Canadian universities cancelling all fall sports because of the pandemic.

Taylor said as of the end of May, seven sports organizations had developed start-up plans for their particular sports, but since then that number has grown to 37.

“That response has been amazing. Step one has been to allow sports like golf and tennis to resume where there is a natural physical distancing and no physical contact. But as we move on to step 2, we start to get into the nitty gritty of, for instance, what a soccer team training session looks like, can games be played yet, and what behaviours of players and coaches have to change to accommodate the new safety rules.

“With games and competition, it becomes all about contact, minimizing numbers, disinfection and spreading droplets.

“There are many questions related to that so we hope the town hall can help provide answers. I am proud of these sports organizations for how they have responded, but my heart breaks for them having to shut down. We want to support them going forward and make sure they get the information they need to open back up as safe as possible.”

The forum will last one hour, but Taylor noted all questions submitted online for the forum will be responded to, whether they get discussed on the forum or not.

The town hall forum will start at 10 a.m.

For more information, see www.pacificsportokanagan.com.

To participate in the forum, sign on at www.pacificsportokanagan.com/news/news-virtual-town-hall-return-sport-okanagan-viasport-bc-and-pacificsport-okanagan.

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