On Friday, shortly after the Ontario provincial government reaffirmed its position that body check and deliberate physical contact would not take place during sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commissioner of the Ontario League David Branch said the league will follow the results of scientific studies to prepare for his return. action plan, but did not fully align its position with the province’s mandate.
“If there are studies that really, clearly indicate that body contact is a contributor to the spread of the virus, then obviously we’ll have to look at it,” Branch said in an appearance on Sportsnet 590 THE FAN’s Writers Bloc . “But we haven’t watched it yet.”
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Sports Minister, made it clear in her Friday announcement strengthening the body-testing ban, and in subsequent follow-up tweets on the subject, that the tenure was an important part of the sport at the COVID-19 era – and was not. negotiable.
“Not just in the OHL, not just hockey in general, but all sports,” MacLeod said during a speech to the Empire Club of Canada. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we need to take these public health precautions.”
According to Ontario’s “Framework for Reopening Our Province Stage 3,” a publicly available document released by the province that outlines best practices for individuals and organizations at this stage of the pandemic response. Ontario, “any prolonged or deliberate contact while playing a sport” is not permitted.
“Our public health officials have been clear,” MacLeod written on twitter. “Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing a sport is not allowed. We will continue to work with [the OHL] on a safe return to play. “
OHL Commissioner David Branch discusses upcoming season
October 30, 2020
The document goes on to say that in team sports where body contact between players is an integral part of the sport, or generally occurs while they are engaged in the sport, these sports will not be permitted unless the way which they are practiced can be modified to prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact.
” I suspect [the OHL] will have to change their game until there is a vaccine or at the very least a public health clearance that we have contained the spread of COVID-19, ”MacLeod said on Friday.
Over the summer, Ontario hosted the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, using Toronto as one of its plate cities, and did not demand any rule changes that would prevent physical contact prolonged or deliberate. The success of the NHL model – a sequestered bubble to limit exposure and eliminate the risk of travel, rigorous testing and contact tracing – would be difficult, if not impossible, for a league like the OHL.
Ontario’s confirmation that the OHL body check would be subject to its mandate to reopen comes as daily reported COVID-19 cases reach all-time highs.
Over the past seven days, the province has recorded a daily average of nearly 900 new cases, according to publicly available tracking data.
“It’s not politics or hockey,” MacLeod tweeted. “This is a global pandemic and we are guided by health policy to combat the spread of a deadly virus.”
It is unclear at this time how the policy prohibiting “prolonged or deliberate physical contact” would affect other non-bodily control elements of hockey games such as puck battles along the boards.
Earlier this month, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resumed play without any changes to its rules. Its schedule has been disrupted by several outbreaks of COVID-19 among teams, as well as provincial restrictions on travel.
The challenge the league experienced, in part, helped solidify Ontario’s decision that body control cannot take place, MacLeod said. According to Branch, the policy move has yet to factor in planning for the OHL’s return to play.
“We haven’t even considered that, quite frankly,” Branch said. “At the end of the day, a lot of what we try to do is give our players the opportunity to get back on the ice. We have to take them into consideration here and what is best for their development, their continued development.