BANFF – If Calgary Rugby Union (CRU) starts a shortened season later in summer, it will be without one of its most notorious teams.
The Banff Bears men’s rugby team informed the CRU it wouldn’t participate this year in 3rd Division due to challenges associated with COVID-19 and player availability.
“We just won’t be able to start a season that kicks off in August and ends at the end of September with a lot of our local players all having committed to go to university this fall,” said Bears president Oli McKay.
“The last few years coming into playoffs, our youth core that’s Banff born and raised, that’s valley born and raised, has headed off to school and we’re left with a very depleted roster. And for us right now, in terms of us being competitive, we don’t feel that it’s in our best interest to force ourselves to play this season.”
McKay added that “we couldn’t participate in a season unless restrictions on imports were changed” to its 15s roster.
The Bears have had a longstanding history with the league to modify its rules to allow more than three import players per team. The transient tourist town draws in rugby players from across the world to become the fierce Bears – putting a target on the Banff boys’ backs from rival teams. However, it's uncertain how many international players would even be available this season anyway.
“For myself, I was definitely looking to be involved in the [CRU] southern Alberta division this year, but as COVID developed and we got a real idea of just how far reaching and how challenging this was going to be, not just for Banff, but for all of Canada, it really became less plausible for us to put a team on the field,” McKay said.
In April, Rugby Canada announced the suspension of all rugby-activities to its provincial unions until June 30. Last season, the CRU 3rd Division started in May and the Bears having played nine matches. Recently, the governing body announced it’s working with provincial unions to develop a “return to play” strategy.
When that happens, McKay said that 12-15 players are interested in getting out on the pitch and he added it’s possible they’d have one-off exhibition matches, or play in 10s or 7s tournaments later this summer.
Due to the Town of Banff’s decision to give a facelift this year at the Banff Recreation Grounds, where the rugby team trains and plays home games, practicing and/or matches would have to be done elsewhere, such as at the Banff high school for training and Millennium Field in Canmore for matches.