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Race directors in Alberta band together in attempt to save season

A Canadian Endurance Sports Alliance survey found that 65% of Canadian race orgs face going out of business in 2021 because of the pandemic. 

It’s not pretty out there, and even worse, there is no certainty whatsoever.

To that end, race directors from a number of running events in Alberta have banded together to form the Alberta Ultra Racing Association in an attempt to show strength in numbers and demonstrate that their races can be run safely during the pandemic, have a major economic impact, and most importantly to get some clarity on when and how events can happen again in the province.  

The new group has been in constant contact with elected officials in Alberta, and is hopeful that banding together will mean increased visibility and greater understanding of their role as event professionals and economic contributors in Alberta. 

“We want to be recognized as event professionals, to have our voice heard, and gain clarity on when and how events can happen again,” says Karin Fleming of Run Calgary. “Every race, from the charity 5K to the multi-day cycling events starts with a safety plan. We are well positioned to create safe outdoor-controlled events for people to participate in and we want the government to work with us, just like they did ski hills, to be operational this season.”
 
Brian Gallant of Sinister Sports says they have been in constant contact with the province. 
 
“We requested an exemption for a May 1 event and it was denied, despite the province replying that our plan was impressive,” he says. “More generally, there have been ongoing discussions with various policymakers and elected officials. 

Race directing is a small but powerful industry and one where everyone knows each other and contributes to the success of all events by helping each other out, volunteering or participating in other events. Talking about and working towards solutions for physical events under COVID-19 is a natural. 

“We have been in close contact as an industry from the very start of the pandemic, sharing info, leaning on one another, meeting online and working together both at a national level advocating for industry-specific support through Canadian Endurance Sports Alliance (endurancesportsalliance.ca) and at a provincial level, on protocols and advocating to policymakers for the safe return to racing and clear guidelines so we can get Albertans moving again at races this summer,” Fleming says. “This working group came together organically and naturally when Brian Gallant of Sinister Sports sent an email asking if we wanted to collaborate and everyone jumped at the opportunity.”
 
Gallant says they have been ready with a good safety plan since late last summer. 
 
“We refined it over the winter; we’re just waiting for the go-ahead. We are planning a full season of events, albeit smaller in numbers,” Gallant says. “We need the province to review our plan and acknowledge that we can operate as safely as other industries, like ski hills.”
 
In Alberta, he says the province’s reopening plan was changed in late January, and now there is even less clarity than previous plans. 
 
“The new Path Forward plan, which was introduced in late January, threw out the playbook. It was supposed to provide clarity for businesses but now it’s less clear than before,” he explains. “Just for example, we don’t know if a ‘potential easing’ of restrictions on events in stage 4 means we can have 10 people, 100 people, or 1,000 people at an event. These critical details are missing and it makes it almost impossible to plan.”
 
Aaron McConnell of the TransRockies Race Series held his last event September 2019, and has been staying afloat thanks to CEWS (Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy) and government loans, but he says they’ve been losing “quite a bit of money just keeping the lights on (salaries, rent, insurance etc.)”. But they’re still here and they’ve even developed a new event. He says the worst-case scenario they would still be able to survive would be a full return in 2022. 
 
“We’re hoping that we can operate some events in-person this year, although we also realize that international participation may be eliminated, reducing our numbers,” McConnell says. “The worst-case scenario that we’re planning around is no events this year and a full return in 2022. We feel that we can survive this, but really hoping that we’ll have at least a partial return this year. We have set firm drop-dead dates for all our events so that we don’t get stuck sinking additional costs into preparing for events this year unless we have some certainty that they will happen.”
 
Both Fleming and Gallant managed to pull off small events last fall when there was a lull in between waves of the pandemic. Virtual events have also helped races survive, but it’s all a stopgap.
 
Fleming says they are ready for events to return right now.
 
“We put together solid plans that have been tested and we were ready in the fall of 2020,” she says. “We are more than ready now to move forward with safe, covid-secure events for healthy people who are ready to self-select and come to an event they believe to be safe after reviewing the protocols put forward by a professional race organization.”
 
If it does not happen, the race directors all paint a dire picture ahead. 
 
“It is really tough to say. My biggest worry is that we keep planning, hire the key crew-members that we need, and spend all of the money required to put on a big event, and then have the rug pulled out from under us at the last minute. That would finish us,” Gallant says. “Most events require financial commitments several months in advance, so we’re being very cautious. I would hate to talk in absolutes about the future, but a lot of organizations are in trouble.”

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