December 23, 2020 – Vancouver, BC: After what has surely been an enduring year for sport in BC, Canada and the world, BC Rugby is elated to report an 80% retention in membership across BC for 2020. Despite early concerns that contact rugby was not on the cards, Clubs have been able to successfully pivot and provide fun and safe, Touch or Flag rugby programming to both new and returning players.
The pandemic has forced multiple changes and new processes to sport to ensure player safety. Upon the return to sport, BC Rugby worked with Clubs to ensure these procedures were captured in each of the Clubs’ COVID-19 Safety Plans. 40 of the 50 BC Clubs made the effort to get rugby back this year, offering 111 different sanctioned programs across the province.
BC Rugby assisted Clubs in tracking the dates, times, location, attendance, and health screening of all participants to follow the strictest of Provincial Health Orders. Due to the Safety Plans and thanks to the endless efforts of the volunteers at these Clubs, rugby in BC made a strong comeback despite the pandemic. As of December 2020, there are over 3,500 registered BC Rugby members. This translates to just over 80% registration totals of December 2019.
Minis membership (players aged 11 years and younger) is up 10% from this time last season. John de Goede, James Bay AA President, mentioned that “the numbers increase in Minis has been a pleasant and unexpected surprise; playing touch has certainly made the game more attractive to some kids.”. de Goede also mentioned an increase in girls’ players signing up for rugby programs, a sentiment echoed by numerous other clubs including Comox Valley Kickers, who have sold out their junior girls’ program with record numbers. “I was a little hesitant that no one would want to play non-contact, but we’ve had our best numbers so far,” said Comox Director of Junior Rugby Operations Ona Thorington.
The types of rugby programs were limited due to the Provincial Health Orders. No one was able to return to full contact or competitive rugby, as we know it, but Clubs took initiative in creating in-house leagues, starting new programs and playing non-contact versions of rugby such as Touch and Flag rugby.
The delivery of these programs came with its challenges for the volunteers and coaches responsible. A total of 11 positive COVID cases were reported by members who attended rugby training in the Vancouver Island, Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Valley health regions. In accordance with the BC Rugby COVID Response Plan, BC Rugby worked with Clubs who encountered these positive cases and assisted with communicating to those who were impacted and support Clubs in suspending rugby activities for two weeks following. With these steps taken, no positive COVID cases transmitted by anyone who attended in-person rugby activities.
“We could not have had such a successful fall season without the efforts of players, coaches, volunteers and club personnel in making sure the Return to Rugby was done safely and effectively,” said BC Rugby CEO Annabel Kehoe. “We thank all those that have been a part of this process for their hard work and their commitment to their communities and to the sport.”
With these successes to report on, BC Rugby is confident that non-contact rugby will safely return in the New Year, dependent on the state of the Provincial Health Orders. Contact and competitive rugby is further away than all would like, which in turn impacts multiple annual events and regular season leagues. The BC Rugby Men’s and Women’s Premier Leagues have been cancelled for the 2020-2021 season, along with the Vancouver Sevens Invitational, Provincial Regional Championships and Club Finals. However, as soon as Provincial Health Orders make way, Rugby will be prepared with creative alternatives to bring rugby back.
BC Rugby would like to thank our partners at the Onni Group, belairdirect Insurance, and X-Treme Rugby Wear for their continued support of the rugby community in BC during this time. We would also like to convey our gratitude to the Government of Canada and the British Columbia Government for their support of not-for-profit organizations and sporting bodies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.