Front Row: Should university sports come back?

In this week's edition, columnist Ajay Atkinson explains how COVID-19 has caused international sports to go on hiatus. (Submitted: Ajay Atkinson)

For student-athletes, sports play an integral role in their character development. The responsibility of balancing academic athletic life can be demanding. Still, these athletes look forward to each season with enthusiasm and adrenaline rushing through their veins. The pandemic has daunted the passion of many athletes because they aren’t able to play as freely as usual because of the limitations COVID-19 has set.

The U-Sports and Atlantic Collegiate Athletics Association board of directors initially made a decision to postpone all sports for the year, while pending the approval to go ahead with winter sports. The decision is being revised given the current status of COVID-19. The ACAA announced that a decision will be made in November regarding university sports for next semester.

Despite these student-athletes anxiously anticipating the ACAA’s decision and hoping to get the go ahead, it would be ill-advised to allow this decision to go forward. The ACAA would have to put measures in place to allow these players to compete and live in an environment that is COVID-19 free. At the moment, the ACAA doesn’t possess the necessary facilities to make this reality. The Atlantic bubble guarantees some safety but teams consist of athletes who live outside the bubble, including international student-athletes who are in their home countries.

Should the ACAA board decide to go ahead with sports for next semester, they must take accountability for the health and safety of student-athletes. Schools within the Atlantic bubble have taken the initiative to continue with online learning for next semester to ensure the safety of students and staff. This decision should be used as a guide by the ACAA board. There’s no point in risking the health and safety of these students.

With the health and safety of the student-athletes already in question, the ACAA has to closely with coaches and institutions to provide essential care and tend to other basic needs of these players. There are many underlying issues that need attention including accommodation and meals for these players. Would they have to live in residence or find houses or apartments off-campus? Would the ACAA and institutions be prepared to facilitate accommodation and meals? These are questions that are critical to how effective the decision taken by the ACAA board would be.

Should the board decide to go ahead with the season, surely the format would change to accommodate the current limitations to having a season amidst the pandemic. As we have seen with many professional leagues including the NBA, NHL, soccer and other leagues, they have taken the decision to live and perform within a sports bubble.

It would be difficult and expensive for the ACAA and the schools to facilitate such demands in order for the season to be a success. Professional athletes take this route to make their season a success, which it is their top priority, even though it’s still flawed as athletes continue to test positive for the virus.

The ACAA isn’t dealing with professional athletes. These are student-athletes and as the title suggests, they are students first, then athletes. Their academic interests as well as their health and safety should be priority when taking such as step as deciding whether to go ahead with a season or not.