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Student athletes in northeastern Ontario sidelined due to COVID-19 restrictions

Like other college athletes in Ontario, Japhet John won’t have the opportunity to compete or train for most of January.

John is a fourth year geography student at Algoma University, and he is a competitive wrestler.

Due to injury early in the season, he missed three other university competitions last year.

And with the county’s new COVID-19 restrictions, which took effect Jan. 5, he won’t be able to compete or train indoors, until Jan. 26.

“It’s really frustrating because a lot of sports already had seasons when there was a drop in (cases of) COVID,” John said.

Athletes deployed in Ontario will not be able to compete or train indoors while the restrictions are in place, but some professional and “elite” amateur athletes will be able to continue with their respective sports.

Includes the Region’s “Back to Play” framework List of athletes and leagues that can continue to compete and train internships with strict safety procedures in place.

The list includes athletes training for the Olympics, professional leagues such as the NHL, CFL, and NBA, and some “elite” amateur associations, including the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association.

But college athletes don’t.

“I think we’re elite athletes,” John said, referring to himself and other students who compete in college athletics.

“We may not be considered professionals, but we put in a lot of work to get to the level we are at,” he added.

Peter Hellstrom is Director of Athletics at Laurentian University. (Eric White/CBC)

Peter Hellstrom, director of athletics at Laurentian University, said he was baffled by the province’s decision not to include college athletes on the list of exceptions.

“There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of how elite student athletes are,” he said. “I’m not sure where the government is missing the boat on the elite side of things, but it’s disappointing.”

Hellstrom said former Loriente students have gone on to have successful careers in the sport, such as Olympic rower Carling Zeeman and Cadre Gray, who play for the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Ottawa blackjack team.

He added several amateur leagues that made the county list feeding college athletics athletes. For example, many OHL and Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association players go on to play for college teams later in their careers.

Hellstrom said he accepts that college athletes should not be competing while there is an increase in COVID-19 cases across the county, but that they should be able to train.

“We probably have more protocols in place, and we’re better at guidelines, than some of the leagues on that list,” he said.

Decisions based on medical advice

In an email to CBC News, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office said decisions about the province’s return-to-play framework were based on advice from the chief medical officer of health.

“Our government is doing everything it can to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and the rapidly spreading variant of Omicron,” Press Secretary Alexandra Adamo said in the email.

“These time-limited measures will help us fight this virus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.”

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