Physical and mental health on the minds of operating sports clubs as Omicron spreads | The Canadian News

It’s a game of chance for thousands of Albertans playing group sports as the Omicron variant COVID-19 sweeps the province.

But some sports and recreation organizations say operating tournaments and leagues as safely as possible is worth the risk to support the mental and physical health of players.

Both Calgary and Edmonton are hosting separate hockey tournaments this week with around 600 teams each and a new season of adult recreational leagues, with tens of thousands of players, is set to begin.

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“This season will probably be the most challenging due to the speed at which Omicron is spreading in the province,” said Jon Diment, program manager for the Calgary Sports and Social Club.

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“Inevitably, there will be more players who have (COVID-19) compared to the fall or summer season.”

There are now more than 61,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer for health, has said those case numbers are low and actual infections are likely 10 times higher.

Diment said the club had no problem selling its various mixed leagues for the upcoming winter season, which begins Monday.

The league offers 15 different sports and has a sister organization in Edmonton, making it the largest provider of recreational sports in Alberta.

Unlike in previous seasons, players are now required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to play. The club no longer accepts rapid tests or medical waivers for registered players.

Diment said this decision was made to increase safety among players and allow for easier scheduling at sports venues, which have different entry rules.

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“We’ve been huge advocates … of allowing sports and fitness to become available again for physical and mental conditioning,” Diment said, adding that people seem more willing now to deal with the threat of COVID-19. than when the pandemic started.

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“Having numerous periods (of time) where you couldn’t do much really had an effect on people,” he said.

Only facilities that do not use Alberta’s Vaccine Passport system are prohibited from holding indoor adult group sports, fitness, or performance activities unless granted a waiver.

Individual indoor training and solo activities with a physical distance of three meters are allowed.

There are no restrictions on outdoor activities.

There are different rules for young people.

Indoor activities are allowed as long as participants screen for symptoms and masks are only required for those under 18 if not physically active. Spectators are also limited.

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Quikcard Edmonton Minor Hockey Week is back in the capital after being canceled last year due to COVID-19. More than 9,000 players from around 600 local teams are competing in a week-long tournament that ends on Sunday.

Esso Minor Hockey Week in Calgary has also returned with a similarly sized roster hitting the ice this week.

Hockey Edmonton General Manager Steve Hogle said they are trying to operate as safely as possible, with input from Alberta Health Services, the City of Edmonton and Hockey Alberta.

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“No matter where you are, you have to be on your guard,” Hogle said. “We are constantly reminding all of our members, all of the players, all of the parents of all the provisions that they need to make.”

He said they are following all government rules and have added some extra security measures to reduce interactions. Medals, for example, will be presented to coaches rather than by dignitaries.

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There were 19 teams that withdrew from the tournament due to positive cases of COVID-19 prior to its start. Similarly, 12 teams withdrew in Calgary for the same reason.

Hockey Calgary CEO Kevin Kobelka said no out-of-town teams play, which eliminates the risk of exposure for traveling players.

They also ask participants to leave the court immediately after playing to limit interactions.

“It has been a very difficult year for the children. They have lost a lot,” Kobelka said.

“Getting them back and having fun and enjoying the game they love is important for their overall mental health. So if we can do it safely and we can follow the rules, we will continue.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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