The sports world has seen it turned upside down in recent days with leagues and tournaments either being cancelled, postponed or suspended due to the threat of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
It’s now starting to hit Yellowknife as the Canadian North Rec Hockey Tournament, scheduled for April 9 to 12, has officially been cancelled. The announcement was made through the Yk Rec Hockey League’s website on Thursday evening.
The Canadian North Balsillie Cup oldtimers tournament, which was scheduled for April 2 to 5, has now also been cancelled due to COVID-19 fears. The Yk Oldtimers Hockey League, which organizes the tournament, issued a statement on Friday morning confirming the cancellation.
Scholastic sports is now also being affected as the Junior and Senior Super Soccer tournaments, set to begin in late April, have been cancelled, according to a statement from Yellowknife Catholic Schools issued on Thursday.
Dan Schofield, who organizes the rec hockey tournament, said they were waiting to see what was going to happen from a territorial standpoint before making any sort of decision.
“We were waiting to hear from Dr. (Kami) Kandola and the GNWT about the next steps and then the word came down from Hockey Canada,” he said. “That essentially made our minds up once they announced that all sanctioned events were being cancelled.
Hockey Canada announced on Thursday that it was going to cancel all of its sanctioned activities – games, practices, tournaments and gatherings – until further notice.
A total of 46 teams from the NWT and Nunavut were registered to play this year, which would have made it the largest tournament ever, he added.
“We normally do 40 teams in the five divisions but we thought we would try and get more teams in,” he said.
The rec league hosts the tournament each year and this was going to be the 40th anniversary of the Easter-time event.
Ryan Nichols, the league’s president, said it’s unfortunate because this is the tournament everyone comes to watch but safety took precedence.
“We had to cancel this early to be respectful of those teams travelling from other communities,” he said. “They pay huge money in plane tickets, hotels, etc. I understand that some will be disappointed but we have to think of the safety of others at this point.”
Because the league’s insurance is linked to Hockey Canada, the tournament had to follow their guidelines, he added.
All teams who had paid their registration fees will get a refund, said Schofield, with the hope that there may be a smaller tournament later in the year but that’s not a guarantee.
“The ice is usually out a couple of weeks after our tournament is done,” he said.
Nichols also indicated that there will be some investigating into an event later in the year.
When it comes to the Balsillie Cup, Conan Donahue, president of the oldtimers league, said it was better safe than sorry.
“We’re an affiliated league through Hockey Canada and so we had to follow what it was doing,” he said. “I understand there will be some disappointed people but we’re talking about people’s health.”
The league’s insurance is through the Adult Safe Hockey Network (ASHN), which links through Hockey Canada, and that’s the reason for the shutdown, he added.
According to the released statement, teams that registered and paid to play in this year’s Balsillie Cup now have the option of getting a refund or putting that money toward next year’s tournament.
Unlike the rec hockey tournament, Donahue said there would be no make-up dates considered.
But there’s another problem facing the league as it moves ahead: the remainder of the regular season. The league has games scheduled up to March 27 but the insurance through ASHN was set to run out on Friday evening.
Donahue said he’s waiting to hear back from ASHN on what will happen on that front.
As for Super Soccer, Simone Gessler, superintendent of Yellowknife Catholic Schools, said in a statement that cancelling the tournaments was a difficult decision to make but it was done in the best interests of all involved.
“We want you to know that this decision was not made lightly,” the statement read.
These are the latest Northern sporting events to fall victim to COVID-19. The Arctic Winter Games was cancelled on March 7 and the organizing committee for the Terence Tootoo Memorial senior men’s hockey tournament in Rankin Inlet announced on Thursday afternoon that it would be pushing that event back to November. It was to be held from March 27 to 29.
Schofield said with the threat of the virus spreading rapidly by the day, the right decisions are being made about the postponement and/or cancellation of sporting events.
“Sport is just a small part of life,” he said. “We have to make sure that we’re doing what we can and that we’re listening to what we’re being told by those who know what they’re talking about.”