Organizers cancel Junior All Native Tournament hours after announcing it was proceeding

Sam Laskaris, March 12, 2020

Out of concerns of the spread of COVID-19, the Junior All-Native Tournament scheduled next week in Kelowna is cancelled. Pictured is Samara Swan of Ahousaht's Maaqtusiis team during the high school provincials earlier this month. Ahousaht had boys and girls teams in the JANT lineup this year. (Marcie Callewaert photo)

KELOWNA, BC — 

Well that escalated quickly.

A few hours after announcing that the 2020 Junior All Native Tournament (JANT) would indeed proceed on Thursday afternoon, organizers had a change of heart and cancelled the popular Indigenous youth basketball tournament later that evening.

A total of 78 teams from across the province had registered for the event, which was scheduled to begin on Sunday and continue until March 20 in Kelowna.

Several Nuu-chah-nulth squads were among those that had entered the tournament.

Representatives from the tournament host committee sent out the following letter to coaches and managers on Thursday night announcing the cancellation:

“Hello Coaches and Managers,

“The spirit of this event is to bring people together and this issue is challenging for everyone and by proceeding with this event it could be divisive to individual communities and our JANT Community. Therefore we have decided to cancel this event.

“It is a difficult decision for everyone and we thank you for your patience and input today. It is going to take us a few more days to sort out further details.

“Thank you for your continued support and understanding. We wish you a peaceful spring break with your families.

“2020 JANT Host Committee”

On Thursday afternoon tournament director Tara Montgomery had told HaShilthSa that this year’s JANT would still be held as planned and that only the opening ceremonies and ensuing dance had been cancelled.

During the past couple of days numerous professional and amateur sports leagues had indefinitely suspended play due to COVID-19 concerns.

The World Health Organization has deemed COVID-19 a pandemic because of the number of cases and deaths worldwide.

But Montgomery said Thursday afternoon’s decision to continue on with the JANT was made after listening to advice from provincial and federal health agencies who deemed the risk in British Columbia and across the country to be low.

JANT officials had been in contact with First Nations Health Authority representatives to ensure they were taking the necessary steps to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 during the tournament.

Both the BC Centre for Disease Control and the Public Health Agency of Canada had assessed the public health risks involving COVID-19 in the province as low.

Montgomery said JANT officials had originally decide to proceed with the tournament in part since games were to be spread out in seven gyms, potentially minimizing the assembly of large crowds in one facility.

Montgomery had said earlier on Thursday the tournament would proceed after a meeting was held with participating coaches announcing what organizers were doing in their efforts to keep all participants and fans safe.

“We gave all the teams the information we have and let them take that back to their communities and decide what they are going to do,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery did admit some representatives from different clubs had expressed concerns during the Thursday afternoon phone meeting that the tournament was still proceeding when so many other events around the country, continent and world were being cancelled.

But Montgomery said she was uncertain whether any clubs would be withdrawing from the event after organizers announced it was still on.

Some had questioned why JANT was still planning to be staged when another popular happening also scheduled for the same city next week, the Kelowna Fan Experience comic convention, had already been cancelled.

“That’s a large trade centre where people are congested in one large conference centre,” Montgomery said Thursday afternoon.

Montgomery had added it made sense to originally just cancel Sunday’s planned opening ceremonies and dance.

“That’s just because the numbers are higher and people would have all been together in the same place,” she said.

The JANT is traditionally held during spring break. The tournament features both girls’ and boys’ squads in under-13 and under-17 categories.

This year’s event was to be hosted by Sylix Basketball and the Sylix Okanagan Nation in Kelowna.