Ontario and its junior hockey leagues are taking the COVID vaccine mandate seriously.
According to the CBC News, SIJHL Commissioner Darrin Nicholas said the SIJHL did not have a vaccination rule earlier in the summer during the recruiting process. This left the vaccination question up to be decided by each individual team, that is until the Province of Ontario made the vaccination mandate.
“I believe all of our teams are asking for the vaccination status of the players. They need to have it in order to make sure they’re eligible to cross the border,” he said.
“I had a call from one of our teams that said, ‘Look, we’ve got a situation where we’ve got unvaccinated players. We’re not comfortable having them around. Is there a policy that says we have to keep them?” Nicholas said.
“The feedback was, ‘No, there is no policy that you have to keep them. They won’t be allowed into our buildings next weekend [come Sept. 22] anyways,'” he said, referring to the Ontario government’s new vaccine policy requiring proof of double vaccination to get into recreational facilities or participate in sporting events.
The SIJHL was one of just a few leagues in Canada not spelling out a clear vaccination policy prior to the season beginning as they felt the government was doing its work in making vaccination requirements.
“Quite frankly, knowing that we are an international league and that’s going to require players to cross the border — and almost certainly you’d be required to have a vaccination to cross the border — we sort of thought that was a built-in vaccination mandate.”
He said the league felt it didn’t need to put together a vaccination policy “stronger” than what was being mandated by the province in consultation with public health officials, saying to do so would be “a bit of a slap in the face to the experts.”
Meanwhile, the cross-border nature of the international league has affected teams’ recruiting efforts, according to Nicholas, because of vaccination requirements.
“Our U.S.-based teams are struggling to attract players now because of that very thing,” he said. “So it’s costing them some of their potential prospect pool because there’s players that are just choosing to play in other leagues that don’t require them to prove vaccination.”
Nonetheless, the SIJHL commissioner says all players, spectators and team officials will be expected to follow Ontario’s COVID-19 proof of vaccination policies at recreational facilities.