Adapting to a New World

The impact of public health orders on amateur sports organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adapting to a New World

Amateur soccer in British Columbia took a dramatic turn on March 13, 2020, when BC Soccer, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, issued a directive to member organizations to suspend all physical activities until further notice. No games, no practices, no in-person team meetings.

That day harkened a year of adaptation in response to public health orders that initially suspended soccer and other amateur sport, then loosened activity, only to restrict it again in late 2020. Sport organizations would need to devote enormous energy, time, and flexibility to maintain operations as much as possible. As President of the North Shore Girls Soccer Club (“NSGSC”), I had a front-row seat to observe the impressive efforts of scores of volunteers and staff who kept soccer running to the fullest extent possible during the pandemic.

Amateur sport groups often are sizeable, complex enterprises. NSGSC, with more than 2,000 players, is the largest all-girls soccer club in Canada. It also operates adult women’s teams and an indoor soccer bubble and has a contract to run coaching at the North Vancouver School District’s soccer academy. It employs several full- and part-time coaching and administrative staff.

The suspension had immediate implications. While our regular season was just wrapping up at the onset of the pandemic, we were scheduled to run spring break camps as well as spring soccer programs. The club was forced to cancel all
of these programs. The loss of our entire spring program, with hundreds of registered players, was a significant blow.

Gradually, things would open up again. By summer, the club was permitted to move to “Phase One.” For soccer, that meant “drills and skills” camps and training sessions in July and August. Girls would have to remain six feet apart while training and were not allowed to touch the balls with their hands.

As a condition of offering such programming, clubs were required to develop a COVID-19 safety plan covering such matters as hygiene and equipment protocols, drop-off and pick-up points for parents and an outbreak plan. Many hours were spent by our staff members preparing the plan so we could offer a summer program.

By September, our teams were back to game play, under “Phase Two” of public health orders. Our older teams were placed in regional cohorts to reduce transmission, while the younger teams continued to play against other North Van teams only. Having been cooped up at home for many months without organized sports, both players and parents were delighted to be back on the fields.

We would pivot again, however, in mid-November. Worsening COVID-19 numbers led to additional restrictions in November and December, ultimately with all games being cancelled in early December. We moved back to “drills and skills” for the balance of the season and for spring 2021 programming. At the time of writing, however, the club is optimistic of a return to normal play this September.

Adapting to the varying public health orders was only one of many legal responses needed. Like many organizations, we took advantage of Societies Act provisions allowing for an electronic annual general meeting. We also took legal advice through this period on risk management, given our insurance policy exempted contagion, and on employment law matters.

Throughout the process, the club benefitted greatly from the presence of several lawyers on its board or who assist in other volunteer capacities. It was an enormous learning experience and we are emerging from the pandemic stronger for it.

Related Articles