To the post-secondary sport system in Canada,
There’s no denying that the last 22 months have put a lot of things into perspective for everyone, both personally and professionally. We’ve begun to put more of an emphasis on things that matter the most to all of us, as we have all seen and learned first-hand just how quickly things can take a turn and we can lose those things in a heartbeat.
One area that many have learned a deeper level of appreciation for is sport and its impact on so many.
For some, sport provides an escape from the rigors of daily life. It provides people with a distraction from whatever else may be going on in life, allowing for their minds to relax and just enjoy their time away.
For others, sport is a career that they want to pursue. It could be their dream to compete at the highest level, and each day allows them to get a bit closer to their lifelong dream of being a professional athlete.
For most, sport is a way to improve their mental health. Much like everyone else in the World, the lives of the student-athletes have been uprooted time and time again, and it’s delivered a huge blow to the mental health of everyone involved.
Sport has immense benefits for all of those involved, aside from the competition aspect. Having the ability to practice and train would allow for all three of the listed benefits to be felt and achieved by those involved.
However, in the last week, post-secondary sport in Ontario has been at the forefront of the social media conversation on the heels of Monday’s announcement from the Ontario Government. Both Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association (OCAA) were left off the list of ‘elite amateur sport leagues’ that were permitted to play.
The omission has brought forth a lot of questions surrounding how the list was put together, and if it was properly labeled or not. As a result, it showed just how post-secondary sport is viewed in the province, as this is the second time since June that both leagues were left off the list.
And, while the decision directly impacts the Winter Season, it also affects the Fall Sports as both leagues themselves haven’t been deemed elite.
For that, I have just three words to say to the student-athletes, the coaches, the parents, the fans, the staff members, and any other constituent of the member institutions across the province of Ontario.
I am sorry.
I am sorry that the system has failed you and your pursuit of both academic and athletic success.
I am sorry that both leagues, and all of U SPORTS and the CCAA for that matter, don’t get the recognition, support, and resources that they are so deserving of.
I am sorry that you feel as though you must fight day in and day out for yourselves.
I am sorry that not enough was done the first time around to ensure that this omission wouldn’t happen again.
I am sorry that you feel that your voices aren’t being heard by those making the decisions that directly affect your daily lives.
I could go on and on, and I know words alone won’t fix the solution, but I am truly sorry.
In the days since the newest restrictions were announced, and subsequently put into effect on January 5th, there has been a level of outcry and support cast towards the OUA and OCAA unlike anything in some time.
The topic has reached various news outlets, both in print and on television. There have been countless social media posts making their rounds, and the hashtags OUAisELITE and OCAAisELITE have been circulating with photos of student-athletes competing for their respective schools. Student-athletes and coaches have continued advocating for themselves, while numerous schools have released statements in support of both leagues being included on the list of leagues being permitted to continue practicing and training, never mind competing.
We’ve even seen other schools and conferences from across Canada show their support over the course of the last week. The University of Winnipeg, Keyano College, The King’s University, the ACAA, and the AUS, among many others, have all shown their support for the OUA and OCAA.
With all of the public outcry in the last five days, it’s led me to ask myself one question.
Could this type of situation have been avoided if there was enough year-round attention and support given to both leagues in the past?
There shouldn’t be a question of whether or not post-secondary sport in Ontario is elite. Both the OUA and OCAA, two leagues which send student-athletes onto professional ranks of sport each year and have alumni in high-ranking roles in the business world, are elite by every definition of the word.
That statement rings true for all programs in both U SPORTS and the CCAA. They are elite.
But, could we have avoided this situation, even if only for the second time during the pandemic? As a sports community, are we doing enough for our student-athletes, our coaches, our institutions, etc. on a consistent basis to give them the respect, resources, and support they deserve?
The answer is short and simple.
There’s a lack of genuine care and concern for post-secondary sport in Canada, let alone Ontario, and it starts at the top with the government and trickles down to the bottom, leaving the student-athletes and coaches feeling as though they have to fight for themselves each day for the respect they deserve.
There isn’t enough discussion or advocacy of both leagues year-round, and that falls on the governing bodies themselves, their member conferences, media members, and so on and so forth. Our leagues should be in the conversation 12 months out of the year, without question. At all levels of the hierarchy, I feel as though there’s more that can and should be done to continue the growth of our leagues.
Locally, the media does the best they can given the resources they have. Nationally, coverage is virtually non-existent on a good day from the major sports networks.
Independent outlets, such as the ACSN, PRSVRE, and 49-SPORTS among others, along with local news outlets and SIDs are carrying the load.
Similarly to the major sports networks, while I am not a major sports network, I’m no exception to this, as I need to be consistently better from my own perspective for those involved.
There has also been a lack of urgency from some in the decision-making positions to keep sport in operation at the post-secondary level in some sort of capacity, especially in Ontario over these last couple of years, and it’s come to the limelight in 2022.
Now, before I go any further, I completely understand the health and safety aspect behind it all. I understand that the pandemic is changing things with each passing hour, let alone each day, and the health and safety of everyone is of the utmost importance.
I get all that.
What I don’t get, however, is the lack of concern for the mental health side of it, which I referenced above. There has been a lack of concern shown for that aspect of the health side of things, which has led to student-athletes across the board suffering in silence because they feel like they don’t matter to those in power.
Instead of being proactive and planning for a safe return to sport in Ontario with the creation of regulations and protocols that perhaps go above and beyond what the government may lay out, we appear to be relying on those in power to dictate what leagues can and can’t do. Leagues are relying on the same government that is dealing with the entire province, and may not have the time or resources to make post-secondary sport a priority, especially after they left it off their list a second time around.
Being proactive may accelerate the timelines, and it may show the government that those in power have a genuine level of care and want to help sport make a safe return when possible. Instead, as each day passes without a final decision from the government, more doubt is cast on whether or not there will be a 2022 season.
While we wait for those decisions, all we can do is continue to push for the leagues in Canada to get the respect and recognition they deserve.
The current amount of public support for both leagues has been refreshing to see, but it can’t slow down out of this. Regardless of what the government’s final decision is with the push for elite status and the permission to continue training, the push is also intended to generate support and resources year-round for our leagues so that they never find themselves in a situation where they have to advocate for themselves.
The intention is to change the perception around post-secondary athletics in Canada, both in U SPORTS and the CCAA. These are elite leagues with elite student-athletes, elite coaches, and elite staff members alike.
It’s time that they are treated as such.
To close, I want to leave one message for the student-athletes in particular.
Please know that there are people out there, on top of those inside of your own schools and conferences, who genuinely care for you, not only as students and as athletes, but as human beings.
I am one of those people.
I will continue to fight with you, alongside you, and for you when it comes to securing the respect, appreciation, and resources that you are all beyond deserving of. Even long after the pandemic is over and we’ve reached some sense of normalcy again in the World, I will continue the fight with you.
This is the proverbial hill that I am prepared to die on.
Lastly, please know this.
You are seen.
You are heard.
You are not alone.
- Tyler Bennett