Kim Palfenier. Photo submitted

COLUMN: Pro sports can learn from local return-to-play plans

Kim Palfenier writes about the disconnect between pro and local sports organizations

by Kim Palfenier

We are all talking about the new normal and, while it means different things to everyone, in our small but active region it certainly includes sports and recreation.

Although abrupt, the very black and white stay-at-home stage was much easier in many ways to manage. The transition stage that we are in now, however, is a lot trickier — especially when leaders in sport are sending mixed messages.

The Tokyo Summer Olympics are postponed until 2021, as are the prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournaments for the rest of the year (including Wimbledon, which was cancelled for the first and only time since the Second World War). Other yearly international events such as marathons in Boston and London are also postponed or scratched.

Given the enormous consequences for so many people, businesses and sectors, I am sure those decisions to cancel were all incredibly hard. They were, nonetheless, entirely responsible ones for global health and safety. Even the athletes who had an exacting schedule to reach their physical peak for the 2020 Olympics have agreed that in the big picture sport had to come second.

On the other hand, professional sports are getting back to business. The North American and European pro-sports of hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer have resumed their abruptly cut-off seasons. And while many folks are pretty excited about their return, and the glimmer of normalcy it conveys, I am confused about the priority those decisions are revealing.

Community-based sports and recreational pastimes are intentionally moving through the provincial restart plan a bit slower than other activities. Although the current plan is in Phase 3, provincially supported sport and recreation activities are operating in the Phase 2 stage.

The governing bodies of BC Parks and Recreation, viaSport and WorkSafeBC have been working together to develop appropriate “Return to Sport” game plans. With such high stakes, protecting participants, players, coaches, volunteers, and staff is essential — and getting it right takes time.

Despite the opposing actions of amateur and professional sports, parents and participants of all ages are deciding carefully about returning to community play. And regardless of the pressure on the professionals, some of them are saying it is too soon to return. I am glad people have the chance to take their time.

As much as I love sport, I have become disheartened with pro sports and the Olympics. The overwhelming focus on business, sponsorships, marketing and ridiculous salaries is too much for me. I hope that the few pro players refusing to return to play will help shift professional sport from the consumable entertainment it has become back to valuing the athlete and the sport itself.

Perhaps the leadership roles should be reversed with pro leagues looking at community sport for examples of responsible action. Replace money-motivated decisions with principles and practices that prioritize everyone’s wellbeing. I wonder if that is possible.

For now, a slow and careful return to play is the responsible action for all. In the long run, it will get us all back playing full-on sooner rather than later.

Kim Palfenier is chairperson of the Nelson Regional Sports Council.

Related: No games, no fans: Nelson Soccer adjusts to pandemic restrictions


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