This isn’t the time to be playing games

By Mike Baker

As a massive sports fan, there’s a big part of me that kinda, sorta hates the fact that I wrote this editorial.

Alas, it had to be done.

I expect I’ll cop a fair amount of flak for this, but why on earth are top-level athletes around the globe being given even more of a reason to believe they’re some kind of godly humanoid hybrid, who don’t have to adhere to all the rules and regulations us mere mortals live by on a day-to-day basis?

Remember when the Ontario government initiated that super inconvenient lockdown back on Boxing Day with the understanding it would help to flatten the curve of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic? Yeah, me too. However, it seems the National Hockey League didn’t get the memo.

Literally. They didn’t get it.

Last we heard, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said, on Dec. 21, that no decision had been made over whether the province would allow NHL games to be played in Toronto and Ottawa this season.

In an effort to pacify the Canadian government, who had already refused to give special treatment to the Toronto Raptors and allow them to travel back and forth between Canada and the USA for NBA games, foregoing COVID-19 quarantine regulations, the NHL made significant changes to its divisional structure, creating a Canada-only conference, made up of the country’s seven professional big league teams.

The new hockey season is set to begin tomorrow (Jan. 13), with the Maple Leafs taking on the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto. Then, on Friday (Jan. 15), the Battle of Ontario takes over the nation’s capital when the Ottawa Senators welcome the Leafs to town.

While I am excited to once again have the opportunity to sit in front of my TV screen and watch some live hockey, even more so now that I can cheer on the studs I recently selected to serve on my 2021 fantasy hockey team, there’s another part of me that thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous that, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the worst it’s ever been on these shores, we’re allowing certain people to break all of the health and safety regulations the general public have been told they categorically must follow.

Actually, let me correct myself there. We aren’t allowing these certain people to do that. The Ontario government is.

I understand the NHL playoff bubbles that took place in Toronto and Edmonton last summer were very successful. But they came at a time when the COVID-19 numbers were trending downwards in Canada. We just had yet another record-breaking day for new cases on Sunday here in Ontario. Things aren’t okay right now.

Things are even worse over in the UK. Despite having almost 1.6 million active cases of coronavirus, and initiating a strict national lockdown that includes a stay-at-home order for all residents and the closure of all schools, it was deemed appropriate for the nation’s four professional soccer leagues to carry on playing games behind closed doors, with no fans in attendance.

That hasn’t stopped almost 100 players and coaching staff from the 20 top teams in the country, and hundreds more in the divisions below, from catching COVID-19. Still, the games continue.

It’s the same in Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Poland… Basically, all of Europe. The cherry on top there is that certain teams have been granted permission to travel overseas and compete in an ongoing international competition. Because COVID-19 has shown categorically that it does not affect soccer players, and it does not cross international lines…

On second thoughts, maybe it’s the same for hockey players! Yeah, that must be it. Nice. Crisis averted.

Let the games begin, I guess.