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This article was published 10/12/2020 (195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The local tennis community wants its courts in session and, despite code red restrictions, will appeal to the province to allow private indoor clubs to reopen.
Tennis Manitoba started a petition Monday and had attracted 260 signatures by Thursday afternoon, with an aim for the resumption of play in what it considers "the safest socially distant sport available."
Three indoor facilities — Taylor Tennis Club (10 courts), Winnipeg Winter Club (three courts) and Tennis U in Steinbach (one court) — were forced to shut their doors Nov. 12 when the province moved to the critical level on its pandemic response system in an effort to halt COVID-19 transmission.
In fact, all sports and recreation facilities — including gyms and fitness centres, hockey arenas, curling clubs, indoor soccer pitches, gymnasiums, swimming pools, racquet-sport centres and the Golf Dome — went dark.
"Our community strongly believes this is not just a sport but a healthy solution that benefits all players, both physically and mentally." – Mohamed Ismath, president of Tennis Manitoba
Just days ago, Premier Brian Pallister announced an extension of the restrictions through the holiday season and into January.
But the governing body for tennis in the province will apply for an exemption, maintaining the racquet sport is the ideal physical distancing activity that provides an opportunity to combine fitness and fun in a safe environment.
"We understand the seriousness of the pandemic affecting all Manitobans. In our hearts, we strongly believe our sport is one of the safest sports and far exceeds all the protocols government officials have recommended," Mohamed Ismath, president of Tennis Manitoba, said Thursday. "Our community strongly believes this is not just a sport but a healthy solution that benefits all players, both physically and mentally.
"It's a fitness sport for the community, we have good guidelines and we believe the government should allow us to reopen. It will help many people who have been isolated for a long time."
The petition will be forwarded to Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, once 500 people have added their names.
"Hopefully, they will understand and provide us with positive news," said Ismath.
It's possible other amateur sports organizations — believing they, too, have been proactive and responsible in following all the provincial guidelines placed on them earlier in the year — could follow suit. Swimming clubs in some European cities, for example, have successfully lobbied for water sports to be exempt from lockdowns, arguing pools are a safe venue for physical activity.
Manitoba tennis facilities had to shut down in the spring but were allowed to open in May with health restrictions in place, such as singles play only, closed locker rooms and mandatory mask use when not on the court. Players even had to initial tennis balls and could only use their own when serving.
"People play on a large court (approximately 23 metres long, eight metres wide), which far exceeds the limitations recommended by health officials. We also have the option of shutting down some courts," Ismath said.
"To my knowledge there weren't any cases when we reopened facilities in May until we shut down (last month)." – Mohamed Ismath
Ismath said the tennis organization's carefully designed return-to-play protocols worked well for several months — both indoors and outdoors — before the lockdown and he's proud of the community's effort to alleviate risks.
"To my knowledge there weren't any cases when we reopened facilities in May until we shut down (last month)," he said. "Occupancy levels were down. We only allowed two people to play on the court. As soon as they finished playing they had to leave. In and out, they were wearing masks. It worked out quite well."
The courts at the Taylor club have stood vacant for a month, a financial smash that's been tough to handle for owners Mario and Linda Trstenjak.
Mario said they took a hit in the spring during the first lockdown, went through the usual summer lull as tennis moved outdoors, and then experienced an upsurge in traffic in September and October. However, with the doors shut a second time they had to lay off eight full-time staff and a few part-timers.
"We're a small business. We've lost so much money it's ridiculous." – Mario Trstenjak, Taylor Tennis Club owner
"For us, we make all our money in September to May. The last nine months we have had six weeks of regular income, so where do you think we are with our finances? Terrible," he said. "We're a small business. We've lost so much money it's ridiculous."
He said they were fastidious about cleaning and sanitization, and adhering to all return-to-play guidelines in May, but were shocked when not a single health inspector dropped by.
"My wife does an unbelievable job with the rules and keeping the place clean, and they never even came one time to check up on us, to see that we were doing a good job," Mario said. "Nobody cared that we were doing a good job."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).