Coronavirus: Confusion grows over access to sports facilities in Ontario areas under modified stage 2

WATCH ABOVE: Sports officials say there is growing confusion around gym closures and other facilities where high-performance athletes train. Leaders say it is their understanding that Ontario’s sports organizations are allowed to be open as long as they follow strict rules and maintain physical distancing. However, as Katherine Ward reports, bylaw officers sometimes have a different interpretation of the rules.

Brandon Leaman has one goal that keeps him motivated: competing for Canada in kickboxing at the Pan American Games next year.

“Us Canadians, we need to stay on top of our game,” Leaman told Global News.

But COVID-19 has made it difficult for him to train the way he had intended. He moved to the Toronto area from St. John’s, N.L., right before the pandemic hit, and then his training went sideways.

“We are not allowed to spar, which is a huge setback for us athletes,” Leaman said.

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“When it comes to competition time, that’s what we do, we spar. Not being able to do that is going to put us at a huge disadvantage.”

The Ontario government ordered gyms and fitness studios in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa to shut down for a 28-day period as of Oct. 10.

However, there has been growing confusion and debate on the rules for facilities classified as provincial sports organizations (PSO). Under the order, PSOs are places where high-performance athletes train.

Muzammal Nawaz, president of the World Association of Kickboxing in Canada, said his gyms have many athletes like Leaman who are working towards representing their country at a high level. He said it has been a struggle to understand what is allowed with this new round of closures.

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“We have had a number of clubs where the bylaw officer walks in and says, ‘You are a gym, you have to be closed,” Nawaz said.

He said he is working around the clock to advocate for his kickboxing facilities across the province, noting he oversees gyms in several COVID-19 hotspot areas. He said he believes the facilities should be allowed to stay open for athletes and that pausing their training could have detrimental implications for their sporting careers.

After going back and forth with municipal officials in Mississauga all week, on Saturday Nawaz got clarity from bylaw officers.

“It has been determined that your clubs and affiliates may operate with the City of Missisauga provided they abide by conditions,” he said he was told.

Some of those conditions included:

– No indoor fitness, exercise or dance classes are provided
– Athletes must maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from any other person who is using the facility
– Individuals are not allowed to use exercise machines or weights
– Spectators are not permitted
– No more than 10 people are allowed inside the facility
– Team sports are not to be practiced or played (with the exception of training sessions for members of a sports team that do not include games or scrimmage games)
– Common areas such as locker rooms, change rooms must be closed
– Equipment must be cleaned and disinfected between each use

Nawaz said as long as the athletes focus on training and avoid exercise, he believes his facilities are following the rules.

“Our members can continue to train in solo training so they are always maintaining their two-metre distance, but they can’t do exercise or calisthenics,” he said

“The focus on technical training, focus on a sport-specific routine.”

When it comes to who can go to places classified as provincial sport organizations, Nawaz said this is another point of confusion.

“In this new modification of phase two, it’s actually unclear. Is it only athletes are allowed to train or is it everyone is allowed to train? But it can’t be exercise and it can’t be in a class format,” he said.

In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, some municipalities are taking local action. The City of Burlington recently announced the decision to pause indoor fitness classes and stop scrimmages and games at City-run facilities, even though the province hasn’t required the City to do so.

Leaman said he realizes the rules for elite athletes could change at any point, but he plans to do what he can to be ready for competition next year.

“It has actually made us be more creative and coming up with new ideas and new innovative ways to still train but to still follow the restrictions,” he said.

Global News contact Ontario Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister Lisa MacLeod for comment on this story. By the time of publication, neither she or her office provided a statement clarifying questions related to the rules surrounding PSOs or if new restrictions would implicate the operation of those organizations.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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