Original news source Toronto Sun
Let them Play! That’s the plea from leaders of Ontario Soccer – the largest provincial sport organization in Canada, representing more than a half-million Ontarians — sent Thursday morning to Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of Ontario, Postmedia has learned.
“(T)he current scientific consensus is that there is no scientific justification for restrictions in the overwhelming majority of youth sports (including contact sports), and especially in cases where those sports are played outdoors,” Ontario Soccer’s chief executive officer Johnny R. Misley and president Peter Augruso wrote to Williams.
The five-page letter, obtained by Postmedia, cites the findings of a Postmedia special report earlier this month that found there’s scant proof of in-sport COVID-19 transmission anywhere in North America, with possible exceptions of indoor ice-arena settings, primarily in hockey.
“In terms of truly documented transmission between athletes during participation, I’m not aware of anything,” Dr. Drew Watson, lead author of several landmark University of Wisconsin studies investigating COVID-19 risks within sports, told Postmedia.
“I know researchers who are struggling to find even a single case among outdoor-sports participants, in particular.”
Ontario Soccer also sent its letter to provincial health minister Christine Elliott, sports minister Lisa MacLeod and Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions.
Ontario Soccer is the governing body of the world’s most popular sport in this province. More than 600 districts, leagues, clubs and academies operate under its leadership. All such member organizations received a copy of Thursday’s letter.
Williams is the province’s foremost public-health leader. He has been advising Queen’s Park on macro policy and micro decisions as to how best to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic — including whether, and how, all amateur and professional sports may be conducted in various jurisdictions across Canada’s most populous province.
As part of the first society-wide shutdowns last year, in mid March, all sports practices and games were soon banned, in Ontario and elsewhere.
Soccer in Ontario did not resume until June in some areas, and not until mid July in others. Ontario Soccer’s return-to-play protocols were determined in conjunction with provincial and local public-health leaders, as well as with provincial, regional and local politicians. If anything, those protocols were overly careful.
Not only were soccer games in Ontario forbidden through most of last summer, but so even was in-practice physical contact for many weeks. Players could do little more than pass the ball to one another, well-distanced, while for weeks goalkeepers could not so much as touch a soccer ball.
Most soccer leagues cancelled their 2020 seasons, staging only a handful of exhibition games in September and October before the pandemic’s second wave shut down sports again by December. Indeed, 57% of Ontario soccer clubs or academies either offered only skeleton programming in 2020 or did not operate at all.
Ontario Soccer’s letter on Thursday to Dr. Williams revealed that only 29 documented cases of COVID-19 related to soccer occurred province-wide last year — with only 17 involving youth players and, vitally, not a single one of those transmissions of the coronavirus occurred on a soccer pitch.
That’s consistent with the latest available research into COVID-19 and sports-related infections across North America, Postmedia found. As the National Football League (NFL) determined in its recently concluded season, all 262 players who caught the virus from the beginning of August through the Super Bowl last month did so off the playing field — in circumstances the league cutely but accurately categorized as “eating, meeting or greeting.”
Soccer, as with other sports, has resumed this month in Ontario jurisdictions not in lockdown. Ontario Soccer again has established return-to-play protocols commensurate with a locality’s COVID-19 zone of red, orange, yellow or green.
For instance, most soccer clubs in York Region, currently in red zone, have begun phased-in, on-field, outdoor practices just in the past week or two. No one knows when or if league games — permitted only in full, back-to-normal green zone — might even be played in 2021.
In contrast, the top level of teen soccer in the United States, the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), is holding games and tournaments across that country, even in the most cautious of so-called ‘blue’ states. California was the last state to allow youth sports to resume. Most other states for months have been permitting youth sports, albeit some with restrictions. Some states have applied few or no restrictions or interruptions to sports since permitting their return late last spring.
Fact is, if soccer games– or any other outdoor sport — were the super-spreader events some medical leaders make them out to be, or merely just fear them to be, we’d have heard constant reports of egregious on-field outbreaks over the past 9-10 months. Yet we haven’t.
In their letter to Ontario’s foremost public-health official on Thursday, Misley and Augruso of Ontario Soccer furthermore pointed out that their sport’s community “is ready and eager to play a significant role in the re-opening and rebuilding of a healthy Ontario” — mental health included.
Misley and Augruso pointed to a recent Ipsos survey that found 69% of parents believe the pandemic has had a negative impact on their children’s health, with 74% of those parents observing in their children “high levels of stress due to the crisis.”
What’s more, as most amateur sports organizations in provinces across Canada operate with little government funding — relying mostly on fees paid by parents — Ontario Soccer’s letter to Dr. Williams said “we are witnessing first-hand the erosion of our infrastructure at every level,” with many soccer clubs or academies facing economic collapse this summer, as parents withhold their children from activities effectively stamped as dangerous by the province and its health leaders.
But based on what? Where’s the science proving on-field, outdoor COVID-19 transmission ever occurs during practice or play?
If Ontario’s public health agency has any such proof, then it is alone in that regard among all provinces in Canada and many states across the U.S., Postmedia found, and the province would not share that information when specifically asked for it multiple times by Postmedia over a two-week period from late February to early March.
In concluding its letter, Ontario Soccer asked Dr. Williams to consider “two key requests to help soccer, by responsibly adjusting the (outdoor) gathering limits currently laid out by the Provincial Health Table.”
First, by increasing from 50 to 100 the number of players permitted in competitive bubbles in jurisdictions in orange, yellow and green zones, so as to allow a minimum of four teams to participate in a competitive league’s play.
Secondly, by increasing the participant level from 100 to 200 people — including players, coaches, match officials and volunteers — so that a four-team league could “safely return to more meaningful competition this summer.” Spectators would be limited to two per player, watching in facemasks, distanced.
Ontario Soccer’s plight surely is shared by all governing bodies of sports in the province, especially outdoor sports. Their pleas to Dr. Williams and Queen’s Park ought to be identical.
That is, follow the science and let the kids play. Right away. Before these leagues — and parents — find it logistically and financially impossible to do so this summer.
If not? Show us the proof why not.
Original news source the Toronto Sun by John Kryk – Mar 25, 2021