When the 2019-20 hockey season came to a premature end on March 12, 2020, none of us had any inkling of the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on communities, not just in Canada but world-wide, leading to major restrictions being imposed on all sectors of society, including sport.
In August of last year, OSHA developed its Return to Play based on the known factors and regulations at the time to provide a framework for getting sledge hockey in the province back up and running. Unfortunately, because of rising infection rates and hospitalizations, our plan never came to fruition as we were forced to first delay, and then finally cancel, its implementation.
A year later, we now have vaccines and the high inoculation rates has enabled the Province to move to Step 3 of its Roadmap to Reopening, which enables us to plan for a resumption of sledge hockey that, while not normal, is much closer to the pre-pandemic game that we all know and love. Nevertheless, many of the best practices from our previous Plan remain in effect. Mask use, regular personal hygiene, guided pathways for entry and exit through facilities, and physical distancing where possible will remain in place until Health Canada declares an end to the pandemic. Until that time, all members of OSHA are encouraged to exercise good judgement and err on the side of safety in all actions. Additional municipal and community restrictions throughout Ontario may be necessary in specific areas to allow us to return to the sport we love, and it is important that they are followed for the benefit of everyone.
In preparing Return to Play 2.0, OSHA has worked in coordination with Hockey Canada, the Ontario Hockey Federation, and public health authorities to ensure all aspects of the Plan are properly executed with the central focus on players, team officials, game officials, administrators, and volunteers. Part of our commitment includes an ongoing and regular review of the Return to Play’s protocols, which will help to enhance the positive hockey experience under both the Province’s and public health authorities’ directives.
OSHA recognizes the important role the game of sledge hockey plays in the lives of all its players. We are eager to resume play, at the same time taking care to ensure that the health and safety of each participant is the main priority. The pandemic situation and Public Health advice on safety measures are both fluid and may change without notice during the implementation of the Return to Play. Also, the resumption of play may not be linear as increasing restrictions may be required should the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase. As a result, our Return to Play will remain fluid and flexible to accommodate any changes in restrictions or changes in advice from the Public Health.