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Mixed messages on martial arts amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in B.C.

Last Updated Nov 30, 2020 at 5:27 am PDT

(Courtesy pixy.org)

Judo, Karate and Tae Kwon Do are interpreting new restrictions on martial arts differently in B.C.

One lawyer says a lack of clarity, communication from the province is making it difficult for martial arts organizations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s COVID-19 restrictions include suspending the practice of martial arts, but provincial sports organizations are interpreting this order differently.

Karate clubs have been closed, Judo schools remain open, and Tae Kwon Do studios aren’t taking a uniform approach.

The Nov. 19 order says “venues that organize or operate other types of indoor group physical activities must suspend them temporarily while new guidance is being developed. These include: gymnastics, dance studios, martial arts.” However, the section of the order covering sports says “games, competitions, and practices can continue with no spectators and no travel for teams outside of their community.”

Erik Magraken is a lawyer whose practice includes the regulation of combat sports. He explains most facilities that offer martial arts training are organized and regulated by provincial sport organizations (PSOs) like Karate BC, Judo BC, and the B.C. Taekwondo Federation. These groups provide guidance to their members, something Magraken says has been complicated by a lack of explicit government instruction.

“Some PSOs, apparently, are allowing, member martial arts to continue while others aren’t. So Judo, apparently, is telling members that they can continue operating, that they’re not a martial art, that they’re actually a sport. Other PSOs, such as Karate BC, are telling their members that they need to stop operating, even though they can take the same position that they’re both a martial art and a sport and let the sporting aspect continue,” he says.

“There’s a lack of clarity from the government as to whether these orders are applying to PSO governed activities, to all activities, or to whether there’s any exceptions at all.”


Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do take different approaches to new order

On its website, Judo BC says “please note that Judo in BC is a sport regulated by ViaSport BC, the government agency that oversees and supports sport in British Columbia. As such, Judo BC and our affiliated clubs, follow strict policies, procedures, and protocols to ensure the safety, health, and wellness of our members.”

One Judo studio on Vancouver Island elaborated on this in a Facebook post.

“Yes, we are STILL open and running as per normal!” it reads.

“There seems to be some confusion stemming from judo being both a martial art and a sport. In the context of the Provincial Government, Judo BC, ViaSport BC and the Health Orders, Judo is an organized amateur sport and therefore we can continue operating under the Phase 3 Judo BC Protocols. We can remain in this phase until we are told otherwise by ViaSport BC or there is a health order which suspends all sport activities. Some facility operators may not understand this distinction.”

Magraken points out most martial arts have both a recreational aspect and a competitive aspect. Nevertheless, he thinks the position being taken by Judo BC is a bit of a stretch.

“It’s a tough position to justify because Judo certainly is a martial art, and although there’s a sports expression of that martial art through governed competition, the indoor, close contact, heavy-breathing activity is probably what’s trying to be caught by the spirit of the latest public health order,” he explains.

“If there’s an exception to these PSO governed martial arts, the government needs to say that, and if there is no such exception the government needs to provide clarity on that as well.”

Karate BC is interpreting the provincial health order to be advising against remaining open.

“Sadly, based on the latest information from Dr. Henry, we have advised our Karate BC member clubs to suspend indoor group in-person classes until we receive further guidelines from the PHO. In her address yesterday, Dr Henry was hopeful that this would be out next week, and we are desperately hopeful for additional guidance by then as well,” writes Executive Director Jonathan Wornell.

The B.C. Taekwondo Federation’s website does not offer direction to members but rather links to a Nov. 20 post from viaSport.

Some schools are mandating masks during classes, some have cancelled all instruction, and others remain open.

More clarity, communication needed from province 

Magraken says he hears from members of these organizations whose attempts to get concrete advice from the provincial government have been frustrated.

“When the government’s shutting down businesses with unclear messaging I think British Columbians would benefit from clarity and from access, instead of being left in the dark and scrambling after the fact,” he says.

“I think the industry would benefit greatly from more feedback and more clarity from the government as to what’s intended to be captured by this order. One point of frustration, I think, is scattered messaging, and having a lack of timely response to people who are confused when they do reach out to government.”

One suggestion he has is that Melanie Mark, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport make herself available to concerned organizations, or to provide regular briefings like the Minister of Health does.

Transparent information about COVID-19 concerns in affected sports and guidance on what concrete steps clubs need to take would help these organizations do their part to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to Magraken.

“British Columbians have sacrificed a lot to try to bend the curve,” he says.

“Businesses or even non-profit institutions running these organized sports are no exception. They’ve probably sacrificed as much as any other industry, in terms of shutting their doors, reducing revenue, and navigating really difficult times. If there’s more work to be done the individuals in these industries are willing to do their share but are being caught blindsided.”

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, viaSport, and Judo BC for comment