Ontario University Athletics pushing for ‘Elite’ Status in the eyes of Ontario Government

Provincial government facing backlash after OUA not given classification as an ‘Elite Amateur Sports League’

OUA restrictions are scheduled to resume no earier than Jan. 28.

The Ontario University Athletics (OUA) association is making a push for elite status following the Ontario Government’s decision to exclude post-secondary athletics from their list of “elite amateur leagues” exempt from COVID-19 related training restrictions.

Such restrictions have been applied to the entire OUA and its constituents, as well as those of the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association. Teams are currently prohibited from training together and their season schedules have been put on hold.

The province’s decision has sparked confusion from student athletes and coaches, given the role collegiate athletics often play in feeding into professional sports leagues.

Following the decision, OUA President and CEO Gord Grace released an open letter in which he vocalizes his belief that OUA athletes deserve the distinction for which they were passed over.

“First and foremost, I want to reiterate that Ontario University Athletics is ELITE,” the letter reads.

“Our student athletes, coaches, and staff continue to demonstrate that they are among the best in their sport across the country […] As we continue our ongoing lobbying efforts from the last several months, we are working with our Board of Directors, committees, and members to ensure we are doing all we can to deliver the winter season that our student athletes deserve.”

Grace ended the letter by encouraging OUA players, coaches, and fans to support the OUA’s “#OUAisELITE” social media campaign, as well as urging individuals to contact their local MPPs and sign petitions to affect change.

CBC News reported Alexandra Adamo, press secretary to Premier Doug Ford, said the province’s decision regarding the allocation of elite status was based on advice from the Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.

"Our government is doing everything possible to blunt the transmission of COVID-19 and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant," Adamo wrote in an email to CBC.

"These time-limited measures will help in our fight against this virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. This decision, based on advice from the chief medical officer of health, was made to keep people safe.”

The Journal spoke to Gabe DeGroot, head coach of the Men’s Volleyball team, about how training restrictions have affected Queen’s Athletics.

These restrictions obviously came at a pretty disappointing time for athletes in terms of being halfway through our season […] We feel like we can accomplish a lot on a national stage […] we're in a really good spot as a team.”

"[We’ve] really just been in a situation where we have to try to adapt to make up as much ground as we can, given the situation that we're in.”

DeGroot believes mid-season pauses are already the most physically challenging periods on the team’s younger players—whose development depends on a consistent workout regimen—without the current circumstances adding uncertain amounts of time off.

“When we bring an athlete in and recruit an athlete in their first year, there's a development plan for that athlete over the course of their four or five-year career,” he explained.

“[A] lot of that is dependent [on getting] into the weights on a regular basis three times a week to be pushing their physical development, a lot of that has a big impact on their skill development [and] their tactic development.”

DeGroot thinks this pause, however, has been especially hard on players who are in later stages of their development and might be restless for the opportunity to play for a championship banner.

“They work these four years towards the peak of their career […] and they know what it takes to win at the highest level, because they've seen it happen and develop in front of their eyes over the last three years,” he said.

“[T]hey want to be able to take that step to essentially raise that banner at the end of the year.”

Although DeGroot and his team are unsure of what the future holds, they are nonetheless preparing for a transition period to ease back into training after the current restrictions are scheduled to cease on Jan. 28.

“We can't go from nothing and suddenly go into competition three days later […] hopefully [we can give them] a 10-day window to start building up some capacity to get back on [the] court and try to get our systems back in place before we'll be back into competition.”

Despite protests from OUA athletes and coaches, the province has so far remained firm in its training restrictions. 

"We want to make sure that all of our athletes, including those in university sports, can play when it is safe to do so,” Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's Minister of Heritage, Sports, Culture and Tourism, said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with colleges and universities to determine how we can best support athletics at that level."

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