Across the sports landscape, the use of COVID-19 vaccines has become increasingly popular. Many fans across Canada and the U.S. hoping to watch their favourite sports have been required by their local governments to be vaccinated before entering arenas and stadiums.
Now, athletes are also typically expected to receive the vaccine.
U-Sports announced in a press release Sept. 9 that all members will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or provide a valid reason for not being able to get vaccinated, prior to arrival at any U-Sports national championship event. The mandate is effective Nov. 8.
This policy includes not only athletes and coaches, but also team support staff, athletic therapists, team medical staff, officials, event staff, and travelling team delegates.
This announcement comes days after FISU, the International University Sports Federation that U-Sports is aligned with and operates under, announced that all attendees of the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade — a sporting event for university athletes from around the world — will be required to be fully vaccinated and undergo a PCR test upon arrival for the games in Switzerland.
U-Sports’ Nov. 8 deadline for double vaccinations of its athletes would allow its delegates to be able to attend the Lucerne games beginning Dec. 11.
For conferences of U-Sports, the decision by the governing body means that participants will most likely have to fall in line if they hope to compete for a title.
Prior to the U-Sports mandate, Canada West announced the adoption of a proof of vaccination policy that came into effect Sept. 3.
Similar to the policy released by U-Sports, Canada West requires all of its members to have at least one dose of a vaccine by Sept. 9 and a second dose by Oct. 17.
For participants unable to be vaccinated due to prior health conditions, or any other reasons, accommodations will be respected.
Ontario University Athletics has also mandated that its members follow a similar policy.
The Atlantic University Sport announced Sept. 9 that they would also implement a vaccine mandate for their athletes.
The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) said it will not require athletes to be vaccinated, after rumours were circulating that a vaccine mandate would be coming into effect for their athletes. The majority of RSEQ schools are also not requiring their students to be vaccinated.
After the U-Sports announcement, members of RSEQ may now be forced to get the vaccine if they hope to win a national championship.
Back in Manitoba, the U of M has already taken a pro-vaccine approach, mandating that all staff and students be fully vaccinated if they plan on being on campus this school year.
Katie Chatyrbok, a forward with the Bisons women’s hockey team, is pleased with the safety precautions U-Sports and Canada West have implemented so far.
“I think that it’s been a really difficult time for everyone, but I think that they’ve done their best to keep everyone safe and that they’ve done the best of their abilities to make sure that we can play safely,” she said.
“Everyone has to wear a mask in the dressing room, and then once everyone is fully vaccinated then you don’t have to wear a mask on the ice when we are practicing or playing games […] then just social distancing whenever possible.”
Chatyrbok is excited that Canada West has a planned schedule. Midway through training camp with her Bison teammates, she is confident that they will find success this season.
“I’m just grateful to have any sort of schedule and play games this year after missing a full season,” she said. “It’s just so nice to have something concrete to work off [of] and know that we’re working towards games.”
“It’s been so fun to be back on the ice finally and have a regular schedule [and] be able to come to the rink every day.”
“I think we look really good. Everyone is really talented. We have a big roster this year and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think everyone is looking really, really good.”
Other sporting leagues in Canada have also adopted vaccine policies.
The Western Hockey League has mandated that all its members, including players, coaches, trainers and officials — as well as personnel that don’t work directly in game, like general managers, scouts and off-ice consultants — also be vaccinated.
In the CFL, as of early August, more than 79 per cent of players had at least one dose of a vaccine. While vaccines are not mandatory in the CFL, the league has introduced incentives for teams reaching an 85 per cent vaccination rate, allowing teams to go out to eat, meet in hotel rooms and not wear masks at practice or on the sidelines during games.
The NHL, NBA and MLB have not made vaccines mandatory for their athletes. However, all three leagues are encouraging their players to do so.
With the recent mandates by U-Sports, FISU and Canada West, vaccines are becoming increasingly a part of sport in this country. These new mandates show the commitment these organizations have toward safety, science and a return to normalcy while also telling athletes that they are entering a new era — an era where the decision to not get vaccinated puts not only their health and safety at risk, but their athletic careers as well.