Hometown Heroes: Ottawa Sport Council’s Return to Play Toolkit

Celebrating the Special People who Drive our Sports Community

As we are learning almost daily, getting back to normal is not necessarily the future. Instead, a new normal is forming. 

For the sports community, it is an understatement to say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way we play, interact and enjoy our favourite sports. 

This has created a significant shift in what an organization is capable of or how it will move forward. 

“Our main goal is to make sure everyone is safe,” said executive director for the Ottawa Sport Council Marcia Morris. 

Morris explained the Sport Council began working around the clock to help develop a plan to give the sports community the right tools and support. Return to Play is a roadmap that offers a surplus of resources for the community to utilize to cater to their specific organization or sport. 

“All sports stopped,” Morris said, explaining rather quickly they convened sports organizations, and leaders, to see how to help. 

As the Ottawa Sport Commissioner, I attended the meeting as well.

“It was clear the message was to find a way to return to play,” Morris said. 

When Morris reached out to the community about how this could be accomplished, she said more than 70 members of the local community came together to help.  A task force was created shortly after. 

Within two months a toolkit was developed.  

The result includes marrying the advice from Ottawa Public Health, reopening plans laid out by the city and what organizations want. 

And most importantly, ensuring the largest group in the sports community – its volunteers – have the support they need to feel comfortable. 

“The goal was to make it simple,” she said, adding the simpler the toolkit was, the way forward for everyone becomes simpler. 

The toolkit includes sustainability, sport-specific guidelines, risk assessments and management, health and safety protocols and how to communicate the changes to parents, athletes, volunteers and organizations.

“It will never be ‘complete’ – as COVID-19 morphs and changes, the toolkit will change,” Morris said.

Developed from advice and input gathered from sports leaders and experts from all over the world, the resources include waivers and templates with the ability to tailor to a specific sport. 

“This is a roadmap written by the local sports organizations for local sports organizations,” Morris said, adding she is delighted with the results. “It’s all-encompassing. The entire community came together to create this.”

There are still hurdles to overcome – including finding the funding for some organizations to get up on their feet again, but Morris is hopeful grants from the federal and provincial governments will fill the gaps. 

“All the reasons sport was important before, is all the more important now than ever,” Morris said, saying that sport helps with mental health, stress, anxiety and connection. 

“It will look different, but it will be safe.”

More information about the Return to Play roadmap is available at sportottawa.ca

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