Ontario Premier Doug Ford tweeted Saturday that the province continues to work with the Ontario Hockey League on a safe plan for a return to play, and said he “would like to see the OHL return as normal as possible with body checking.”
“We are engaging with the OHL to create a safe return to play plan, which will need to be approved by health experts,” Ford wrote on Twitter. “To date no decisions have been made.”
On Friday, Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, announced that bodychecking and deliberate physical contact would not take place in Ontario sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not just in the OHL, not just in hockey in general, but in all sports,” MacLeod said during a speech delivered to the Empire Club of Canada. “We’re in a very serious game right now and the reality is we have to take those public health precautions.”
OHL commissioner David Branch said the league will follow the results of scientific studies in crafting its return-to-play plan, but did not align his position fully with the province’s mandate.
“If there’s studies that really, clearly state that body contact is a contributor to the spread of the virus, then obviously we’ll have to look at it,” Branch said during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Writers Bloc. “But we’ve not looked at it yet.”
According to Ontario’s “Framework For Reopening Our Province Stage 3,” a publicly available document released by the province that outlines best-practices for individuals and organizations during this stage of Ontario’s pandemic response, “prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports” is not permitted.
The document goes on to say that in team sports where body contact between players is an integral component of the sport, or commonly occurs while engaged in the sport, those sports will not be permitted unless the way they’re played can be modified to prevent prolonged or deliberate physical contact.