Triathlon Magazine Canada
Keeping the endurance sports industry afloat and pushing for a safe return to racing
It is an understatement to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting restrictions, have dramatically impacted endurance sports around the globe, and Canada is no exception. While some races are going ahead in countries such as Australia, there remains great uncertainty around hosting endurance events within Canada in 2021 and as such the industry is in desperate need of support to survive. Many are pinning their hopes on the vaccine putting an end to the misery, but with case counts and hospitalizations fluctuating, it could be a long wait.
From the still-burning fires of COVID-19, the Canadian Endurance Sports Alliance (CESA) was born. Its mandate is to bring together independent operators such as event organizers and service providers to create a unified voice to carry a message to the Government of Canada. That message: the industry requires immediate assistance in order to remain viable.
CESA now has 160 members, with a seven-person interim board that has been meeting weekly via Zoom calls for the past 11 months to discuss strategies and share best practices and emotional support as the pandemic rages on. Beyond triathlon events, CESA also encompasses running, cycling, obstacle course and adventure racing.
CESA reiterates, via its website, that such events are central to “a sense of community, instilling a sense of civic pride, bringing a welcome financial boost, and providing healthy activities and positive goals for Canadians.” Approximately two million people attend an endurance event yearly within Canada, and research suggests that sports tourism will grow by approximately 30 to 40 per cent for the five-year period leading up to 2023.
Steve Fleck, a board member and race announcer from Aurora, Ont., says “Endurance sports organizers, like many small businesses, are vital to the economy of Canada. Endurance events contribute an estimated $1 billion to the local economy and employ tens of thousands of people. With restrictions on mass gatherings across the country, our industry was one of the first to be affected, and it will be one of the last to recover.”
It is estimated that the negative effects of the pandemic will continue to show for a period of up to three years for those who are able to survive this pivotal time. Revenue from endurance race registrations is down at least 70 per cent across the board, and up to 65 per cent of races may fold over the next three years. But currently, many event organizers are dangerously close to permanent closure as they cannot sustain operations or shoulder the weight of early-season costs with no revenue. The suspension of events not only impacts event organizers but also race day vendors such as photographers, caterers, digital service providers, rental companies, as well as charities and entire municipalities.
CESA has been working with diligence, interacting with over 60 MPs across party lines since its inception. After significant efforts they recently had a first meeting in the office of the Minister of Finance. The Ottawa Liberal caucus – mostly composed of women, including a few key cabinet ministers – took a particular interest in CESA. “A number of them were regular participants in Ottawa based running races/ events such as the Ottawa Race Weekend, The Army Run and others – they seemed shocked that we are very possibly looking at a second full year of cancellations,” adds Fleck.
NSOs in Canada – namely Athletics Canada, Cycling Canada and Triathlon Canada – reached out to CESA and shared a desire to work in tandem. “They see us as truly important stakeholders in their sports eco-systems,” says Fleck.
All parties agree that what the industry desperately needs is a safe return to racing, and as soon as is safely possible. There’s little evidence that strictly controlled outdoor events contribute to the spread of COVID. Still, persuading the public that racing is safe is not an easy task. Beyond asking governments for financial support, one of CESA’s top priorities is to work closely with health authorities at the local level in educating the public on what constitutes a safe return to racing.
With major cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal putting a total moratorium on any kinds of “events” until July 1, it’s highly doubtful there will be a “normal” triathlon race season within Canada in 2021. With impending vaccinations, one possibility is that races may be able to leverage this by requiring that registrants show proof of vaccination to compete, but at this point, however, it is only conjecture.
Fleck believes the CESA initiative and the work it has done so far to advocate for Canadian race organizations has been very positive. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he says. “We’ve put this whole industry on the map.”—KERRY HALE
Sanders runs to runner-up finish at Challenge Miami
While racing remains very much in question for those of us here in Canada, Challenge North America has blasted ahead with two events in Florida over the last six months. First there was Challenge Daytona last December, then, in early March, the company put on the inaugural Challenge Miami. Thanks to its close association with Nascar, Challenge North America events are set at Nascar race tracks – the new event was set at Homestead-Miami Speedway – and, since Nascar racing resumed last June, the organizers have been able to utilize venues that are familiar with hosting events during the pandemic.
That didn’t mean the race went off without any challenges. Defending men’s Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno was initially barred from heading to the United States due to a paperwork issue, while defending women’s Kona champ, Germany’s Anne Haug, had to pull out of the race the day before because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Added to all that drama, during the women’s race Great Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay was given a penalty for passing a lapped rider on the inside of the track, a move she seemingly was forced into by the surprise athlete of the day, Spain’s Sara Perez, who had pulled wide around a corner. Perez was able to stay with Charles-Barclay through the swim, then dueled with the three-time Kona runner up through the bike. The Brit’s two-minute penalty ended up being the difference as Great Britain’s Jodie Stimpson put together a brilliant all-round performance to run to the women’s title by 1:21 over Charles-Barclay, with American Jackie Hering tracking Perez down in the closing stages of the run to round out the podium.
Canadian Paula Findlay appeared to be in contention for a top finish coming off the bike, but faded during the run and would eventually take seventh.
The men’s race saw Frodeno come out of the water with the leaders, then tag along with the Andrew Starykowicz/Magnus Ditlev super-cyclist train to pull clear of the rest of the field heading into T2. After finishing the swim 2:10 behind the leaders, Canada’s Lionel Sanders found himself in eighth place, 3:16 behind, as he started the run. A gutsy run performance saw Sanders run past some of the sport’s biggest names as he moved to second, but no one threatened the German Kona champ on this day – Frodeno finished 2:30 up on Sanders with American Ben Kanute rounding out the podium. The only other Canadian in the field, Taylor Reid, took 14th.—KM