Swimming Canada Confident of Holding Olympic Trials Despite COVID Surge

Jade Hannah; Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

Swimming Canada released a statement Wednesday that reiterated its confidence that it can hold Olympic and Paralympic Trials at the end of May as planned, even if Ontario is in lockdown situations.

The organization backed its procedures to hold Trials, which are invite-only, from May 24-28 at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Swimming Canada will also operate a High Performance Test Event at the same venue May 7-8. Because of the procedures, even amid the “evolving circumstances” of a country where coronavirus cases are surging and lockdowns are intensifying in response, the organization believes it can hold the event.

“We have developed robust safety protocols to deliver an event that will allow us to safely choose the best teams to represent Canada at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” CEO Ahmed El-Awadi said in the statement. “We are aware of the recent media reports regarding the situation in Ontario and other provinces, and we recognize the uncertainty this creates for all the participants across Canada. We are receiving feedback and questions from people across our swimming and sport community. We understand the concerns and we are seeking more information to make the best decisions possible.”

The long tail of the pandemic has already altered Swimming Canada’s plans significantly. It has cancelled senior and junior national championships as well as Masters championships, and Canada will not send a delegation to the World Junior Championships. Olympic and Paralympic Trials were originally slated for late April, with a pared-down list of 20 competitors per event. That has been delayed until May; as a hedge against uncertainty, Swimming Canada provisionally named six leading swimmers to the team.

Canada has experienced 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 23,000 deaths. But more concerning, after the nation did well to contain the virus in 2020, are two waves in 2021. The first came in January, and they are in the midst of a second. The number of new COVID-19 cases, according to the New York Times, exceeded 10,000 on April 19, sending the seven-day average above 8,000 new cases per day. Ontario has provided the largest share of that, with 3,725 new infections per day over the last week and a rate of 28 cases per 100,000 that is the second-highest among the provinces. Coupled with a sluggish vaccine rollout, concerns are high.

Swimming Canada says it is working with local and national health authorities and government partners to continue updating their guidance.

“As an athlete, I understand the preparation and focus that goes into an Olympic and Paralympic Trials,” Swimming Canada President and 1976 Olympic medalist Cheryl Gibson said. “As an organization, we have to ensure we can run an event that puts health and safety first. The board of Swimming Canada has challenged management to do this to the best of its ability. This past year has required us to be more adaptable than ever, and we will continue to adapt as additional information becomes available and as circumstances change.”