International athletes limited in Canadian team participation

As Canada’s population continues to rise, you can expect the number of immigrants entering the country to rise with it. A country commonly known to accept people from away as its own, Canada has become one of the world’s most prominent examples of multiculturalism.

But Canada’s multiculturalism is beginning to cause a problem in Canadian university sports.

The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association, which acts as the national governing body for organized sports at colleges, has a rule in place that restricts the number of international athletes per team to one in six players.

Recently, Holland College, who play in the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association challenged this rule, arguing that it’s hurting international recruitment.

So, is this decade-old rule still necessary in such a multicultural country like Canada?

St. Thomas University Athletic Director Mike Eagles supports Holland Colleges’ stance, saying that St. Thomas supports the initiative for change.

“I think it’s something we would like to see changed, but it’s going to take time. I guess we’ll just see how it is, but basically, we’re in support of the initiative,” he said.

According to CCAA rules, the limitations are based on team sports, such as soccer, volleyball and basketball. Sports such as track and field do not fall under this category because they are seen as individual sports.

However, as of right now, there are no limitations on the St. Thomas hockey teams as they fall under the Canadian Interuniversity Sport banner, which is the national governing body for organized sports at universities.

The CIS adopts very similar rules to the CCAA, but its only restriction is in men’s basketball.

Tom Huisman, who is the Director of Operations and Development for the CIS, says its goal is to limit the amount of international athletes on one team.

“Within men’s basketball, CIS limits the number of athletes who are not Canadian citizens or who do not have landed immigrant status in Canada to three on any team. There are no such requirements in other sports,” he said via email.

But is this rule still effective?

According to Statistics Canada, from January to April of 2010, 71 per cent of the increase in population was due to international migration. A study by the Government of Canada titled Economic Impact of International Education in Canada, says international students contribute approximately $6.5 billion to the Canadian economy each year. Currently, there are close to 100,000 international students in Canada.

Eagles believes international students are crucial to universities, not just because of their different cultures, but because of the higher cost of tuition.

“The university benefits because there’s higher tuition rates for international students,” he said. But Eagles also says with the amount of time and money St. Thomas has put into international recruitment, the rules need to be loosened a bit.

“Our perspective, being close to the border and being a school that has spent time and money in terms of trying to recruit international students, we would definitely be in favour of seeing those levels change,” he said.

But Huisman says there’s a point to the rule as it’s designed to improve Canadian athletics and to develop home grown talent.

“[It’s in place] to promote the development and opportunity for Canadian citizens and those with landed immigrant status to participate in the CIS,” he said.

Huisman also says the rule is in place “to address and avoid repeating past occurrences where the number of non-Canadians on a team was a concern.”

The number of international students in New Brunswick is on the rise as well. According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick had the lowest percentage of international students in 1992 at three per cent, but by 2008, the percentage of international students was more than 11 per cent, putting it in the upper echelon of Canada’s provinces.

But Eagles says despite these numbers, the majority of the international athletes the university has is because of students appearing on campus for academic reasons, not necessarily because they were recruited for a particular sports team.

“Our international students for the most part are showing up on campus and in terms of soccer, volleyball and basketball, basically any international students of those teams have I believe just ended up being here for the most part,” he said.

Eagles acknowledges that the university is looking to recruit players from the United States, but he feels the CCAA’s rule is prohibiting coaches from aggressively recruiting players.

“Down the road, if it is changed, it would allow our coaches to look to the U.S. a little more to reach out to high schools, prep schools or whatever down there and give us another group of athletes to possibly draw from.”

And while Eagles admits the university has not yet had to turn a player away because of the CCAA’s rule, he does think that changing the rule will be beneficial in the long run.

“It would add to our ability to draw students to the university,” he said.

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