IROQUOIS – Barring government restrictions on sports and outdoor recreation, South Dundas Soccer will have players back on the soccer pitch for the 2021 season.
The club, which was to celebrate its 25th season last year, is opening its registration on April 1st for its spring and summer soccer program.
“Everyone involved with the program was upset to have to cancel last year’s season,” said SDSA president Phillip Blancher. “Under the current COVID-19 framework from the Ontario government, we can operate in 2021.”
He cautioned there would be some changes to the program from previous years.
“It will still be the beautiful game, just done a bit differently.”
The province’s colour-coded COVID-19 framework allows for leagues of up to 50 players when a region is in Green, Yellow, or Orange.
Larger league levels offered by the SDSA like the Under-9 and Under-7 divisions, which normally operate with eight teams, will be split to two four-team leagues. League A players will not play against teams from League B.
In older levels where four team leagues are normal, this does not change anything.
Team size is capped this year at 10 players per team for Under-9 and younger, 12 players per team for Under-11 and older levels. A level needs at least 40 players registered in order to be run. Once the cap is reached, players will be wait listed for a spot.
“I don’t like having to have waitlists but that 50 player per league rule is from the government, and there are no exceptions,” said Blancher.
As the 2020 season was cancelled, the association’s board decided to allow 2002 birth year players, who missed out on their final season, to return for 2021. Registration, when it opens, is for players born between 2002 and 2017 this year. The SDSA plans to offer soccer leagues at the Under-5, Under-7, Under-9, Under-11, Under-13, Under-15, and Under-19 levels. That is subject to change based on enrollment numbers.
Part of the safety plan that was submitted to the Eastern Ontario Health Unit includes frequent hand sanitizing for teams during training and games. Each field will have a hand sanitizing station, and breaks at regular intervals for using those stations.
Instead of an hour each week, sessions – including a game – expand to one hour and 15 minutes. But there is a 15 minute period between each groups time to allow for people to leave and maintain physical distancing. Soccer balls and ball bags will be sanitized each week for player safety.
Players are allowed one spectator each and there will be designated areas at each field for viewing.
“I know this change is a difficult one because soccer has been a large social outing on Saturday mornings,” Blancher explained. “But the guidance from the government says one person only per player.” Attendance at each game will be kept for contact tracing purposes.
Under the current public health guidance from the Ontario government, similar to hockey, players on the soccer pitch for drills or games do not have to wear a mask. When they are not on the soccer pitch, they will be asked to wear one. If a player is more comfortable wearing a mask on the field, they can.
Washrooms will be open for use, but the canteen will be shuttered for the season. Free bottled water will be available for people each week.
World Cup 2021
At the end of each season, the association hosts its annual World Cup tournament. This event includes a parade, opening ceremonies, a silent auction, and barbecue. For 2021, that all changes.
“I know many look forward to the tournament as a celebration,” Blancher said. “Last year was going to be a big celebration as it was our 25th season. But with the restrictions right now, we can’t.”
He added that the SDSA would hold a big event once it was safe to do so. “Call it our 25th anniversary, 2.0,” he said.
Instead of the tournament, the SDSA will adopt a playoff format tournament similar to what is done during the World Cup, but without the fanfare.
Registration for the season opens April 1st via the SDSA website at http://www.southdundassoccer.org. Fees remain unchanged at $40 per player, making the program one of the lowest-cost recreation programs in the area.
The association is not collecting fees at the time of registration, but will collect them before the start of the season.
“We have a lot of support from the community which has helped keep our fees unchanged since 2012,” Blancher explained.
“The extra costs involved with COVID-19 have taken a chunk out of the finances though.”
The SDSA is not a member of a provincial association to keep registration fees low; it does not qualify for many of the provincial COVID-19 funding programs for support. This has meant deferring planned major projects for another season.
The 2021 Spring and Summer soccer season is scheduled to begin May 29th and run for 10 weeks, ending with the playoffs at the end of July.
Games are planned for Saturday mornings but schedules may change depending on public health restriction levels.
For more information on the program or to register, visit the group’s website at southdundassoccer.org.