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'It's a slap in the face to players and coaches': OUA not considered 'Elite Amateur' by province

When the Ontario government released its latest restrictions and public health measures, seven different organizations in the province were given 'elite amateur' status in the return-to-play format.

Athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sport leagues will be exempt.

Those 'elite' leagues include the CHL, PWHL, U18 Elite Baseball, Jr. A Lacrosse, League 1 soccer, Women's Field Lacrosse U19, and OSBA Basketball.

Ontario University Athletics (OUA) was once again excluded.

"It definitely is a slap in the face to all OUA athletes and coaches, but we've seen this before," says Michael Faulds, a former OUA Quarterback and current head coach of the Laurier Golden Hawks football team.

Faulds describes many of the leagues that were approved as 'feeder' leagues for the OUA.

"I don't know what student athletes at universities have to do in Ontario to be considered elite but when you talk about giving 35 hours a week to their sport on top of a full course load, there are a 100 CFL players from the OUA, and there was close to 40 Olympians that were in the Tokyo Olympics from OUA schools. So it is definitely a head scratcher."

When it comes to elite athletes you need to look no further than Kylie Masse. The Windsor, Ont. swimmer from the University of Toronto won three medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Alex Bishop, a goaltender for the University of Toronto dressed as a backup goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the current NHL season.

"One hundred per cent I think it's an Elite League.," says Bishop, who is in his final OUA season. "It's definitely disappointing because we haven't played much since the beginning of 2020, so it's been a long ride and it is disappointing that we're off for a little bit longer."

OUA had made the decision in December to shut down until Jan. 24 — now all of the OUA’s winter sports are now on hold, including hockey, basketball and volleyball until at least Jan. 27.

That means games during that three-day window are canceled. Knowing there was a long break ahead, nearly two dozen players left the OUA to sign professional contracts.

"If you look at our league just since the pause [in December], there has been a bunch of players go and start their pro careers, which you know speaks a lot to the talent in our league," says Bishop.

It's not just the showdown or layoff that has players pessimistic about a return.

The biggest issue now for the athletes under the new classification is not being able to practice or train with their teams during this break.

“It's pretty tough pill to swallow yesterday seeing that news and especially with other leagues being deemed elite amateur," says Brendan Bornstein, a men's hockey player at the University of Toronto.

He's not very optimistic that play will ever resume for the winter sports when athletes haven't been practicing.

"It's pretty tough right now to wrap our heads around the idea of actually being able to complete the season and have a championship weekend, then a National Championship in March. It just seems so far fetched at this point," Bornstein added.

Faulds is thankful that the fall sports were able to be completed, but feels for the players and coaches whose season is currently on pause.

"They had a taste of their season pre Christmas, and then to see it, you know, being kind of on hold right now and not knowing so is terrible," says Faulds.

He adds, ''Those student athletes would love to be in the gyms at their universities, but they can't even do that right now. So they're really in their homes in their living rooms doing workouts as best they can try to eat well while starting their classes. And the big unknown if our seasons are going to continue, so definitely feel for them. Hopefully, the Ministry of Sport changes things when this status is recognized at a future date."

Tuesday afternoon the OUA released a statement highlighting its student athletes achievements with the hashtag #OUAisElite.

The OUA's chief executive officer Gord Grace tells CTV News his organization is going to do whatever it can to get the attention of the provincial government.

"We had no issues in the fall, and if there is a league that could pull that off, it's us," says Grace.

A statement from the office of Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, Lisa MacLeod reads, "....These time-limited measures will help blunt transmission and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed as the province continues to accelerate its booster dose rollout."

The statement goes on to say, "We want to make sure that all of our athletes, including those in university sports, can play when it is safe to do so. We will continue to work with colleges and universities to determine how we can best support athletics at that level." Top Stories

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