Twenty athletes and five staff on Field Hockey Canada’s junior women’s field hockey team have received a federal government exemption that will get them home this week from South Africa.
The team got stuck in Potchefstroom, a city about 120 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, when Canada and many other countries enacted new travel restrictions due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The team went to South Africa for the junior women’s World Cup, scheduled for Dec. 5 to 17.
As the travel bans were announced, concern arose among families of team members.
“Today started off pretty wretched, and I am very, very hopeful that we’re going to get them home,” said Susan Goddard, whose daughter is on the B.C.-based team.
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Then on Saturday, Field Hockey Canada said the federal government had granted a “time-limited waiver” to some of the testing requirements for reentry into Canada.
The team will be allowed to provide a negative PCR test result within 48 hours of its scheduled final flight to Canada, instead of the standard 72 hours — issued by an accredited lab in South Africa.
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“Field Hockey Canada athletes and staff are currently booked on a flight out of Johannesburg on December 8, transiting through Germany,” the organization wrote on its website.”
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“Field Hockey Canada’s staff and athletes will verify their test documents to ensure they are within the 48-hour window.”
Without the government exemption, the team would not have been able to board its Dec. 8 flight.
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The team had previously been informed by the federal government that while a chartered flight to Canada might be possible, all commercial flight options needed to be exhausted first.
Susan Goddard woke up on Saturday morning, still under the impression that the Dec. 8 flight to Germany might not work out. As a result, she said, parents were ready to take action.
“We started writing our MPs again, going back on social media, reaching out to anyone we could,” she explained.
“Then I got a phone call from my husband and he was like, ‘Check your email, check your email! They’ve got an exemption. They get to come through!’”
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The team arrived in South Africa on Nov. 23 to train. Days later they found out about Canada’s restrictions on travellers from southern African countries — when Omicron was dubbed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.
The tournament was cancelled last Thursday, but most commercial flights out of South Africa were already suspended, leaving the players and staff without immediate means to travel home.
The team and supporters had fundraised more than $160,000 to participate in the tournament after becoming the first Canadian team to win gold at the Junior Pan American Games in Chile in August.
—With files from The Canadian Press
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