Quebec gives green light for baseball and soccer to resume play Monday

Only outdoor practices will be allowed for now and participants will have to stay two metres apart. Games could return by the end of the month.

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Play ball!

That was the word from the Quebec government Thursday as Isabelle Charest, a former Olympic athlete who is now minister responsible for sports, announced that supervised team sports such as soccer and baseball can resume on Monday. The key word for the return of the sports will be “gradual.”

“We don’t know what fields will be available,” said Ray Callari, the president of N.D.G. Baseball. “There are some fields in N.D.G. which still have hockey boards up and we use fields in Côte-St-Luc and right now they are closed.”

In the first phase, only outdoor practices will be allowed and  participants will have to stay two metres apart. Charest said Quebec expects to allow games to be played by the end of the month. Public health authorities and sports federations are developing guidelines.

Soccer Quebec general manager Mathieu Chamberland said Charest’s comments on games being allowed by the end of the month was a “very big surprise.”

Chamberland said the return-to-play protocols being established by Soccer Quebec will result in small changes, but “in the end, it will be soccer.”

“We’ll look at the distancing on the bench for the substitutes and there will be more emphasis on hygiene,” Chamberland said. “There will be no sharing of water bottles and the customary handshakes before and after the game.”

And, if a player gets knocked to the ground, he can’t expect a helping hand to get back on his feet.

Callari, a former minor-league player and longtime scout for the San Francisco Giants, is aware of the need for proper hygiene, but hopes that there won’t be any changes to the way baseball is played.

“I hope they let players tag the runner,” said Callari, who is not a fan of a suggestion that home-plate umpires call balls and strikes from two metres behind the pitcher’s mound to allow for proper social distancing.

Uncertainty over the coronavirus has had an effect on player registrations in both sports.

“Last year, we had 170,000 registered (soccer) players in Quebec and right now we have 77,000,” Chamberland said. “That’s quite a  difference, but we expect those numbers to go up now that we have the OK to begin play.”

N.D.G. Baseball began its registration process in April and Callari said he expected the numbers to be down by 15 to 20 per cent. There are many hurdles still to overcome. Any organization wishing to start must also get the green light from local health officials. Westmount, for example, has cancelled all of its spring activities and the city’s website says there might be limited soccer and baseball programs later in the summer.

Chamberland said there was no clear guidelines on whether teams will be able to travel between regions.

“We don’t know if there will be a provincial championship because we don’t know what restrictions there were will be within regions or between regions,” he said. “That’s something we’ll have to look at once we start playing games.”

The N.D.G. program includes a Little League component, but the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., has been cancelled for the first time in its history and there will be no Canadian championships.

While youngsters will be back in action, the Impact is lagging behind other Major League Soccer clubs in their preparations for an upcoming tournament in Orlando, Fla. MLS lifted its moratorium on full-squad practices Thursday, but the Impact is still awaiting local approval to advance to Phase 2 of the return-to-play protocol, which involves small-group workouts. Ten of the league’s 26 teams are currently in that phase.


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