Young soccer players across Manitoba will be allowed back on the pitch later this month, albeit with some restrictions.
The Manitoba Soccer Association released guidelines and recommendations for a phased reopening plan on Wednesday that players, coaches, parents and referees must follow starting June 17.
“It’s fantastic … having the players come back and participate in the sport they love,” said Héctor Vergara, executive director of Manitoba Soccer Association.
“They’ve been waiting a long time and they’re all very anxious about getting on the field, and doing what they normally do in the summers.”
Contact sports were banned because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Phase 2 of Manitoba’s reopening strategy allows youth contact sports to return.
Despite the positivity, Vergara noted that the association will remain vigilant to guard against a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba, which could result in scaling back again.
There will be three stages to soccer’s reopening in Manitoba, and progression will depend on guidance from public health officials.
Stage 1 is strictly no-contact training, Stage 2 allows for some limited contact training, while Stage 3 allows for league play but there will still be some restrictions.
Travel during the first two stages is limited to within a player’s community, but once Stage 3 begins, they can travel within Manitoba.
Some community soccer associations were consulted in the drafting process to ensure they could implement plans to follow physical distancing at all times and disinfecting, said Vergara.
Before opening up, each community association must follow the MSA’s guidelines or adopt a plan of their own that uses some of the guidelines set forth by the MSA, he said.
Anyone feeling symptomatic must stay home from a scheduled event, notify their organization and get tested for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
If someone tests positive for the illness, Vergara said there will be a reporting process that involves keeping the person at home, contact tracing, and having possible contacts tested.
“We all have to play our part to be careful with it, because we don’t want to see a child get infected and having to trace everybody back, and having to report this, and then having to shut down certain programs because of it,” he said.
Vergara anticipates some may be reluctant to allow their child to play soccer this summer. But he notes the sport is not returning to normal right away, and the COVID-19 pandemic in Manitoba appears to be calming down. As of Thursday, there are only seven active cases in the province.
There are also positive physical, social and mental health aspects to the reopening, he said.
“You have to take into consideration that for the last three months, more or less, children in their community have not seen their friends, have not been in school, have not participated in any extracurricular activities like sport,” he said.
“It’s important for the community that we acknowledge the fact that these children need to be active and participate in the thing they enjoy — whatever the sport may be … but you have to be safe when you do it.”
The guidelines released Wednesday speak strictly to outdoor soccer practices or games. The indoor season doesn’t start until October or November, said Vergara, and if Manitoba continues its COVID-19 trajectory, indoor soccer should not be impacted.
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