Waiting for the ball to be in court

What does the pandemic mean for Wesmen Athletics?

While some private gyms have resumed service as part of Manitoba’s reopening policies, the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) athletics facilities and programs have remained closed, and varsity sports, including the Wesmen, may or may not happen during the winter 2021 semester. 

David Larkins, the media relations co-ordinator for Wesmen Athletics, says the Wesmen play in the Canada West conference, which encompasses varsity sports in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and is part of USports, which is the governing body for all university sports in Canada. 

Canada West decided to cancel all fall sports and postpone all fall-spring sports. Larkins says that in October, Canada West will determine whether that postponement will become a cancellation. 

For the Wesmen, Larkins says, this means that women’s soccer is cancelled this year, and basketball and volleyball are, at minimum, postponed.  

Larkins says regardless of the decisions of USports, “we’re going to continue to honour scholarships to our athletes, should they remain at UWinnipeg and as members of the teams they’re on. Everyone’s being put through a difficult time regardless of who you are and where you are, and as it relates to our student athletes, we certainly didn’t want it to feel like we were pulling the rug out from them further than what COVID has already done.”

“For our soccer team, there’s certainly a mental and emotional toll there as well,” he says. “I know that some of our players were supremely disappointed in knowing they wouldn’t have a season, and they have continued to train following distancing protocols, and they’re trying to make the best of it, but there’s a lot of hurt, because this is what they’ve worked so hard for.”

As for the other teams, he says they are “hoping that some level of training as a team will come in in the next couple of weeks, and they’ll at least be able to be in the gym and with their coaches in a safe manner.” 

“Volleyball and basketball have very different green lights,” Larkins says. “Volleyball you can do a little bit more as a team (while distanced), while with basketball, the team aspect of it is difficult based on spacing and hygiene and all that. It’s really in flux.”

Dean Melvie, director of recreation services at the U of W, says that while Canada West’s decisions “will have a significant impact on the use of our facilities,” the U of W athletic centres “meet the needs of a variety of university groups including Wesmen Athletics, academics, the Collegiate and external community groups and sport organizations.”

“The university's strategy during the pandemic is to focus on remote learning alternatives for students,” he says. “Since the majority of our Fitness Centre members are students, closure of the centre is in keeping with the overall campus strategy.”

Recreation Services is planning to begin reopening the RecPlex fields, community gym and the Duckworth Centre's Dr. David F. Anderson Gymnasium on Oct. 15, while the rest of the fitness facilities will remain closed. 

Melvie says “the user experience will be fundamentally different when entering these spaces” to comply with Manitoba Health guidelines. 

Published in Volume 75, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 10, 2020)

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