Saskatchewan government updates COVID-19 guidelines for sports practices

For months, Saskatchewan hockey players under the age of 19 haven’t been able to practice with their entire team.

But a small update to the Saskatchewan government’s COVID-19 restrictions allows more players on the ice at the same time.

“Instead of having eight kids on the ice, you can have 16 — a whole team’s worth,” said Blair Watson, Hockey Regina’s executive director.

“We can have one group inside each blue line and one group in the neutral zone.”

The updated guidelines apply to large pool facilities, ice surfaces and floor spaces such as high school gyms.

Read more: Regina to serve as WHL East Division hub for Saskatchewan, Manitoba teams

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For athletes 18 years old and younger, practices are still limited to groups of eight or fewer, but multiple groups can train in large venues.

Each space is capped at 30 athletes at a time, which does not include coaches or staff.

Groups must be at least five metres apart, while social distancing and masking are required in each group.

In a statement to Global News, the Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health reiterated this update does not mean more athletes can train together, rather more than one group can train at the same time in the same space.

“These venues must have the space and monitoring capability to ensure adherence to the required distancing protocols between groups, capacity maximums and other risk mitigation protocols as noted in the guidelines,” the ministry said.

Read more: Saskatchewan COVID-19 sports restrictions weigh on young athletes: ‘It’s mentally challenging’

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Previously, all sports practices and rehearsals for athletes and dancers were limited to individual groups of eight. Those groups were not allowed to share training space.

Confusion in the sports community

The guidelines were updated Feb. 19, according to the province.

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However, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association told Global News it found out one week later, which is when it notified its members including Hockey Regina.

“When we sent that out Friday, I’m pretty sure teams were starting to practice Friday night with the new guidelines in place,” Watson said.

While the update was news to the hockey world, the Regina Marlins Swim Club says it’s been practicing under the “updated” rules since the fall.

Marlins president Jessica George says they get their directives from the province and Swim Saskatchewan’s return to swim plan.

Read more: Games ‘unlikely’ to resume before the end of March: Saskatchewan Hockey Association

In that plan, there can be eight swimmers per lane with up to 30 swimmers allowed in the pool at the same time. George added each lane takes up the size of two lanes to incorporate physical distancing.

The province says the guidelines were updated to “confirm that large venues may accommodate more than one group of eight or fewer.”

While the update to groups does not impact the swim schedule, George says there is one change that does: Group activities including swimming lessons and competitive swim team training must be scheduled outside public swim times.

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Up until Feb. 19, George says there were occasions when public lane swimming was happening the same time Marlins’ practices were taking place. That’s no longer the case.

Athlete exceptions

Under current health orders, athletes older than 18 can’t practice or train for group sports and all competitions and games are suspended, including recreational and amateur leagues for all ages.

As of Feb. 19, there are a few exceptions.

Read more: Saskatchewan WHL teams, SJHL receiving funding from province

Athletes over the age of 18 who are participating in the Brier, Scotties and Mixed Curling Championships as well as “carded” Olympic and Paralympic athletes can now train, practice and compete.

The same applies to Western Hockey League players.

In February, Regina was approved as the hub city for the WHL’s eastern division teams from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The league’s season is set to start March 12.

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