What’s happening with upcoming in-person outdoor sports events in Canada?

It all depends on the province and the timing

Currently, Canada is in the grips of an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the dastardly Omicron variant. This more contagious variant has resulted in the coronavirus spreading like wildfire and forcing the provincial government to step back to a modified Stage 2 of its reopening plan and other provinces have made similar moves.

In January, not much happens on the events side of things but we are now starting to see a trickle of cancellations and moves to virtual events like we saw in earlier waves of the pandemic. So what should we expect?

It all comes down to timing at this point. What we have heard about Omicron is that it comes in like a lion and hits a peak earlier than previous waves. It is also said to be milder, although with the incredible speed of transmission, it doesn’t matter right now as hospitals are already filling up fast. 

In Ontario, events such as the Polar Paws trail running race, which was scheduled to be held at an Ontario provincial park, got their permits pulled so had to cancel. Others, such as the Canadian Ski Marathon in Quebec saw the writing on the wall and moved to virtual. 

“We are sad to announce that Polar Paws for 2022 has been cancelled,” the race team posted on the Polar Paws Facebook page on Jan. 7. “With the latest lockdown, our permit was cancelled by the provincial park. We were looking forward to having everyone come down to our new neck of the woods and play on our amazing trails and take in the surroundings.”

Polar Paws is planning on announcing a virtual edition, as well, in the coming days. 

Currently, under Ontario’s modified stage two health and safety measures, there are no limits on outdoor public events as long as there are masks when distance cannot be maintained. Athletics Ontario-sanctioned events also require vaccination. That bodes well, but it is never that easy. There are also local public health authorities and municipalities who must issue permits. 

For instance, the Waterloo Marathon will only be a half-marathon this year, and the municipality has told race director Tony Lea that the event will require all roads to be closed and he has to submit a traffic plan. 

The Ed Whitlock Half Marathon is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 1 out of Bechtel Park, Waterloo. And that is far enough in the distance that it should be fine. 

But, it is enough to give race directors fits, we are sure. 

The next line of big events will be in February with many popular races such as the Gatineau Loppet in Quebec, which is still planning an in-person event, although there is no doubt a contingency plan in place for a virtual event which the popular winter event did in previous years. 

Quebec has some of the more strict public and safety measures in Canada at the moment due to the very serious escalation of hospitalizations, and the province has capped capacity at outdoor events at just 250 people for now. 

The Loppet is still six weeks away, and as we know things change quickly and it could be Quebec that moves out of the current wave before any other province. But some did not wait. 

The Canadian Ski Marathon is a popular Nordic event that runs in February in Quebec, and it announced a move to a virtual format on Jan. 6.

“The Canadian Ski Marathon committee has worked hard over the past few months to provide you with a safe event despite the pandemic,” event organizers wrote in a statement. “A virtual challenge and a one-day event were created with this in mind. However, with the arrival of the Omicron variant, the situation and the restrictions have changed. This means that the risks related to the event on the site in Montebello became too high for both the safety of our community and the financial survival of the event.”

March will bring other big running events to Ontario, earlier in British Columbia. 

The Chilly Half Marathon was the last in-person running event to be held in Ontario back in 2020 when the pandemic first began. And, it’s ready to roll with a sold-out event scheduled for March 6 in Burlington, Ontario. Another popular road race, Around The Bay, is scheduled for the end of March in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Hopefully, Ontario will get a handle on the Omicron variant and move ahead in the reopening plan soon to give the participants of these two great events and the organizers some peace of mind. 

In British Columbia, there are no public health measures regarding outdoor public events at present beyond vaccination and a request for masking. Vancouver’s first big race of the year, the aptly named First Half, is sold-out and will drive upwards of 2,500 participants to the Yaletown neighbourhood for this popular race. 

Fingers crossed, there are very few if any further cancellations and a special thank you to all the race directors who continue to create these incredible opportunities for fitness, fun and camaraderie despite overwhelming challenges. 


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