Reopening Recreation – Sports Teams, Fitness Studios and Gyms – Guidance for Stage 2 of Alberta’s Relaunch

With endorphins running high, on June 9, 2020, the Alberta Government announced the Stage 2 Relaunch strategy with favorable news for fitness and recreation business owners and enthusiasts. An analysis of the COVID-19 data encouraged the Government to accelerate the reopening of certain businesses and athletic endeavors.

Included in the Relaunch is the reopening of indoor and outdoor recreation facilities inclusive of fitness studios, gyms, and recreational sports.  The specific guidelines for Indoor Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation can be found here. Noticeably absent is the anticipated requirement of 50% maximum attendance.  Instead, the parameters focus on the two-meter distance rule.

Key announcements include the following list.

Arenas, Gyms and Fitness Facilities:

  • Wherever possible, activities should be re-located to outdoor settings instead of indoors.
  • Alter booking times of facility amenities to create a buffer between sessions.
  • Masks should NOT be worn when conducting intense physical activities.
  • Arena Sports (e.g. hockey, figure skating): No more than 50 people can be on the ice/boxes at the same time. This includes referees and coaches but does not include spectators.
  • Weight Rooms:  Space weight machines at least two meters apart. Consider greater distances (three meters) between aerobic fitness equipment where high exertion is common (e.g., treadmills, rowing machines, stationary bikes). Consider installing physical barriers between equipment wherever increased distancing is not possible. Ensure enhanced cleaning and disinfection of shared fitness equipment between each use.
  • High-Intensity Fitness Classes (e.g. Zumba, cycle class, hot yoga, boot camp): Reduce the overall number of participants in classes to ensure that a minimum distance of three-meters is maintained in all directions of each participant.
  • Low Intensity Fitness Classes (e.g. Yoga, Pilates): Arrange participants to maintain two meters distance between each other at all times.
  • Racket Courts: Where not playing with family members, participants should play within a cohort/mini league.
  • Gymnastics and Rock Climbing: Establish appointments and designate climbing times to ensure physical distancing can be maintained.
  • Martial Arts/Boxing: Participants should be cohorted comprising of those from the same weight class or skill level.

Organized Sport

  • All aspects of organized sport, physical activity and recreation may proceed (programming, training, practice and competition) if physical distancing is possible.
  • Where sports and activities cannot be moved outdoors or modified to maintain distance, it is essential to limit the number of contacts between different participants by playing within set cohorts. The Government has defined cohorts as small groups of no more than 50 individuals (including participants, officials, coaches and trainers) who participate in the same sport or activity. Cohorts should remain together during Stage 2 of Relaunch and only play within the same geographical region (e.g., within a county, town or quadrant of a city).
  • Competition: Mini-leagues should be created help to mitigate risk of transmission by limiting the number of athletes. Each mini-league can be comprised of multiple teams, to a maximum of 50 people, and is essentially a form of cohort. Game play between teams must be limited to teams within the same cohort/mini-league. Teams in different mini-leagues cannot play each other.
  • Participants and spectators are expected to maintain a distance of two-meters in lobbies, change rooms, multi-purpose rooms, and while off the field of play (players’ bench, bleachers, etc.). 
  • Spectators: The maximum number of spectators is determined by how many people the space can hold while keeping two meters of distance between attendees from different households/cohort families, up to a maximum of 100 persons. It is strongly recommended that all spectators wear masks, especially in an indoor setting.

The basic health restrictions remain in place which will likely provide challenges. Many businesses have already experienced these reopening hurdles in Stage 1 and were challenged with a steep learning curve when balancing business efficacy, governmental restrictions and potential legal risks. Below are risk management considerations for your business or sports league:  

  1. Remain Vigilant of the Shifting Legal Landscape: In addition to Tuesday’s announcement and the parameters set by Alberta’s government, as data becomes available regarding the success of Stage 2, the landscape may shift and new industry specific guidelines updated with little notice.  Consider joining any relevant governing bodies for your recreation industry as they may have interpretation guidance from the government or may have provided further instruction.  In addition, the federal or municipal governments may enact legislation or bylaws which tweak the provincial government framework. Ensuring your business or sports league follows all guidance and recommendations will be helpful in protecting you from any potential fines or lawsuits.
  2. Governing Bodies: Provincial or national sport and recreation governing bodies which sanction organizations should ensure they have regulations or guidelines that are required for those participating in organized activities and make those guidelines available to the public. These should meet or exceed provincial requirements. It is recommended that every organization develop a publicly available written plan.
  3. Internal Policies and Practices: Consider the provincial guidance publications for recreation facilities or sport and draft your own internal policies for your employees, volunteers, clients and athletes to protect the safety of the public as well as to minimize any potential occupiers’ liability claims. For example:
    • Determine any necessary training for employees or volunteers prior to opening.
    • Consider requiring all employees and participants complete a COVID-19 self-screening tool prior to the commencement of work or any activity.
    • Set capacity limits on how many people can use locker rooms at the same time.
    • Ensure employees are following the required internal policies and external government mandates.
    • Consider designating a responsible person to ensure public health guidelines are followed.
    • Consideration should be given to how to include or accommodate vulnerable persons.
    • Consider developing a plan for addressing non-compliance with internal policies and external health guidelines and mandates.
  4. Insurance: Contact your insurer to confirm the extent of your coverage for any liability claims and consider any options to purchase additional coverage.
  5. Waivers: In addition to proper signage, waivers or indemnity agreements may offer protection from any future liability.  Consider adding a COVID-19 clause in your waiver and assumption of risk documents, and request that returning participants sign a declaration confirming they understand the risks of returning to sport in a pandemic environment.
  6. Read the Contract: If your business or sports league will be renting any facilities, read the contract in advance and ensure you understand any allocation of liabilities. In the same respect, consider if your venue will be rented out to other subcontractors (eg yoga instructors) or athletes and perhaps draft terms which appropriately allocate any risk in relation to liability for transmission of COVID-19.
  7. Suspend the Contract or Cancellation Fees: For businesses in the middle of a contract with clients (e.g. boxing classes paid for 6 months) consider if the contract is able to be deferred or suspended for those clients who choose not to recommence at the facility until Stage 3 or later. Consider adjusting or waiving cancellation fees for clients who cancel due to quarantine or illness.

Overall, key to the success of reopening, in conjunction with limiting risks of future liabilities, it is important to consider if your business or sports league is able to reopen while complying with the public health orders. Is it safe for you, your employees, your customers and your athletes? If you are prepared, ensure any drafting regarding hygiene protocols is clear and consistent, and document your efforts regarding enforcement protocols.

The McLennan Ross Litigation practice group has a strong reputation and years of experience providing effective legal advice to clients. Should you or your company have questions, we would encourage you to contact any member of the practice group.