Lamenting a year without sports
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic.
The Government of Canada has designated this day as a National Day of Observance to commemorate the people who lost their lives and the significant impacts we have all felt because of COVID-19. More than 22,000 Canadians have died from the virus since the pandemic began and there have been almost 900,000 recorded cases in Canada.
Those alarming and heartbreaking numbers make discussing the impact of COVID-19 on sports seem almost trivial by comparison but sports is a constant and central part of the cultural mosaic of any area and has far-reaching physical and mental benefits. This column commemorates the significant impacts the pandemic has had on the sporting community.
At the top of my list of the biggest victims are all the high performance athletes who lost their most important development year to the pandemic. This list includes AAA hockey players gearing up for the OHL draft, OHL players preparing for the NHL draft, and high school and travel sport players looking to strut their stuff and garner scholarship offers to Canada and the United States. Some of these athletes were still able to land at their preferred destinations but others accepted lesser offers because their options were limited and some received no offers at all. Many athletes peak in their last few years of high school and they were judged on past performance rather than where they are at now.
Athletes who had moved up to the next level of competition saw their seasons cancelled before even a single contact scrimmage was held. How hard it must be to train for months on end with no competitions on the horizon. Factor in the stress of online schooling and these athletes had as much or more than they could handle.
My hat is off to all the sports groups who have gone above and beyond to provide online training sessions for their athletes or opened their facilities at reduced capacities and increased hours when public health allowed them to do so. The amount of volunteer time put in by these people to make that happen is astounding but not surprising considering that is what they do every day of the year in good times and in bad.
I am sure some of these grassroots sports organizations will be struggling financially as we hopefully come out of the pandemic and I sincerely hope there will be government funding available to get them through any rough patches. The work they do in our communities is priceless and is worthy of support.
Athletes at the highest levels were clearly impacted by the pandemic. I will shed no tears for professional athletes who should have fat enough bank accounts to survive the pandemic but I feel the anguish of Niagara’s Olympic hopefuls who saw the 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021, and saw their training cancelled while other countries’ athletes were still training full speed ahead, COVID be damned. Some of these athletes have put their lives on hold for one last crack at Olympic glory and they have been asked to do it again. I know how hard they work and how much pain they endured to get to this point. I cringe at the unfairness of it all.
At the complete other end of the sporting spectrum are all the weekend warriors and adult rec leaguers who burn off stress by playing recreational hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis, badminton, slo-pitch, pickle ball, etc. etc. After missing out on my last badminton season because of back issues, I was so looking forward to returning to the Thorold Badminton Club to work up a good sweat, talk with old friends and exercise away all the demons piling up inside my head. I miss it just like thousands of you miss your own sporting pursuits. Hopefully we can all get back to what we love doing sooner rather than later.
There are also thousands of kids out there who are playing recreational sports for the love of the game and a chance to hang out with their friends. Their games and training have yet to resume and their lives consist of school, home and more of the same. They are missing their sports just like the travel athletes.
Not to be forgotten are all the coaches and officials who graciously give of their time to make sure games can be played in a safe and organized manner. Like athletes, these coaches and refs are missing a big chunk of what defines them as special people in our community.
The pandemic has caused plenty of collateral damage to businesses that rely on sports. Restaurants, sporting goods suppliers, trophy shops, concession workers at the arenas have all seen their incomes or profits dry up because of the pandemic. The aforementioned businesses are all big community boosters and support everyone who comes their way. Hopefully we have all done our part to return the favour in their time of need and will show some added support when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.
It would easy to take this day and point fingers at all the mistakes our politicians have made along the way but most have done the best they could while being pulled in a million different and conflicting directions. Thank you to all the health care and frontline workers who have soldiered on during this time of crisis and a special thanks to all the scientists who have created the vaccines that will bring us back to normalcy.
BP Sports Niagara can’t wait for the day when we are back at arenas, gyms, golf courses and fields detailing the athletic pursuits of Niagara’s best teams and athletes. That day can’t come soon enough.