The Western Lacrosse Association has cancelled its 2021 season.
It’s the second consecutive summer the bouncing lacrosse balls have been stilled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WLA commissioner Paul Dal Monte said the decision was sparked by Lacrosse Canada’s cancellation Tuesday of the Mann Cup senior national championship that was scheduled to be played in Ontario in September. But, he added, several other factors also came into play, including:
• ongoing public health restrictions on large indoor public gatherings and limits on adult sporting activities
• ongoing public health guidelines prohibiting non-essential travel which would limit the ability of players to get to their teams as well as for those teams to travel between the mainland and Vancouver Island
• economic impact of the pandemic on league sponsors and business partners.
“It’s frustrating,” Dal Monte told the Tri-City News, adding when discussions between the league and health authorities indicated public health restrictions aren’t likely to ease significantly enough in the next several weeks for teams to gather and practice, even alternatives like a delayed season, severely shortened schedule or just playing locally fell off the table.
Dal Monte said even though teams and players are anxious to get back on the floor, it’s more important to do right by the community.
“We’d be irresponsible if we thought we were going to play,” he said. “We’re talking about something that has never been seen in our lifetime.”
Lacrosse Canada president Shawn Williams said the Mann Cup’s cancellation was done in consultation with the WLA and Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) in Ontario. But, he added, the sport itself isn’t cancelled and he encouraged local associations to continue to plan for their return-to-play as provincial and local health guidance allows.
That grassroots support will be key to rebuilding the WLA after two summers of darkness, Dal Monte said.
“The game will continue to be played at a level below adult,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to bounce back stronger.”
But it’s going to take a lot of work.
Dal Monte said while the WLA’s seven arenas will be dark this summer, the onus will be on teams to stay engaged with fans, season ticket holders and sponsors.
“We don’t take fans’ support for granted,” he said, adding some teams have already had success with online events to connect players, alumni and fans as well as live auctions. “They’re a loyal, passionate fan base that understands the situation we’re in.”
As well, the league is involved in ongoing discussions with the MSL on modifying some of their rules to make games more exciting, competitive and appealing. And there’s been some preliminary talk about partnering with the BC Junior A Lacrosse League to put on some sort of showcase for junior players later in the summer if public health restrictions allow.
“We’re filled with confidence we’ll get back on track,” Dal Monte said.
Still, he admitted, challenges remain.
Another summer without ticket revenue and limited exposure for sponsors means the league is holding out hope that some sort of government financial assistance will come its way, Dal Monte said.
“What can we do? I never thought I’d be having the same conversation we had a year ago.”