BOW VALLEY – Alberta Health sent a beacon of hope to the struggling sports industry hinting that restrictions toward outdoor summer competitions could be completely lifted as early as July.
Many sports industry organizers have been hit hard financially by the pandemic, but are becoming optimistic about hosting in-person events this summer after a letter from the office of the chief medical officer of health, noting an “outline of the potential timing for the return of audiences” to indoor and outdoor music, theatre and other performance events.
"It's the first positive news we've had in over a year," said Tony Smith, organizer of Grizzly Mountain Events (GME). "There's been zero indication that events would be coming back anytime soon, so that's very positive. I'm very happy to see that news."
In the letter dated April 9, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s top doctor, hints at specific dates when large crowds could once again return to competition and acknowledges the economic challenges many event organizers are facing.
It notes that by late May, outdoor events could potentially have a 15 per cent of fixed seating capacity to a maximum of 100 people; by late June, a 50 per cent fixed seating capacity to a maximum of 500 people outdoors. Then, in late July, a total removal of capacity restrictions, the letter added.
“Final allowances for total numbers will be confirmed as we approach these key milestones, noting that if there are opportunities to move these timelines up because of better than anticipated case trends and/or more aggressive progress on vaccines, that will be of utmost priority for us,” Hinshaw stated.
The letter caused buzz around Alberta's sports industry, which has already been pushing back dates for in-person events and switching over to virtual racing in 2021.
GME's summer lineup was cancelled due to the uncertainty, but Smith said the potential new guidelines bodes well for fall event Grizzly Ultra Marathon.
"It's good to have some positive news after a year or more of uncertainty, but I'm not holding my breath because it's all dependent on COVID numbers going down and going in the right direction. Hopefully with the vaccination roll-out now, we can get back on track," Smith said.
Like Smith, 5 Peaks Adventures' race director Kevin McDonald said he's optimistic, but realistic that they’ll have an in-person outdoor running event later this summer.
“We have all the venues secured for 2021; it’s more of a wait and see game right now,” said McDonald.
"I think we can go it safely. For me, personally, we got to get the case count down, we gotta get the restrictions lifted and we got to keep vaccinating people."
There are two local events 5 Peaks plans on running at the Canmore Nordic Centre this summer, but should local restrictions still be in place, they'll be transferred over to virtual racing events.
Alberta Ultra Racing Association (AURA), a group of professional endurance sports event directors, has been lobbying to the province to "save Alberta endurance sports."
The group said it had two productive meetings with Alberta Health and Alberta Culture and Tourism, which in turn, have taken a progressive, but tentative action at a return to bringing back normal-running events.
"By late June, we should see much larger numbers again. One thing we have stressed repeatedly is that endurance races are not gatherings per se. We feel that there is now an understanding that endurance races are a separate type of activity, dissimilar from weddings, concerts, rugby tournaments, and the like. We will keep pulling that thread,” AURA stated on social media.