Keeping Indigenous athletes in mind, the ISWO has gone Virtual

MISSISSAUGA — Last weekend, Indigenous Sport and Wellness Ontario (ISWO) provided Indigenous participants across Ontario the opportunity to take part in an NHL21 tournament to compete for three cash prizes.

This is the programming that followed a Well Nation Boot Camp Facebook Group shortly after the new year, and preludes the 2021 Well Nation Virtual Games that will take place from March 15-25.

President Marc Laliberte said that changing their programming to accommodate virtuality was a step in the right direction.

“When the pandemic hit, it became apparent that our usual methods of promoting sport and activity wouldn’t work,” said Laliberte.

“Camps, tryouts and events had to be put on hold. The NAIG and the NAHC have been postponed at the national and international level. Our ONBI and ONVI, the basketball and volleyball championships we host, have similarly been delayed indefinitely.

The act of meeting and competing in person had become too risky. ISWO’s resources had to be re-directed to deliver safe alternatives,” he said.

The ISWO was formerly considered the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario and is the designated and officially recognized Provincial/Territorial Indigenous Sport Body for the province, and as Laliberte explained, the organization has been navigating “without a road map.”

This navigation led to the Virtual Games, while the ISWO worked to provide Covid relief efforts and delivery of sport gear and programming.

There are three age categories for the games between ages 1-12, 13-19, and 20 plus. To compete, the participants are expected to choose the activities they’re interested in, and upload a video or picture of them completing the activity to earn points; there are also a number of bonus challenges to earn additional points.

For those with a competitive streak, leaderboards will showcase who’s in the lead for each age category overall. All participants are set to receive a free prize pack mailed to their door, which includes a Games branded t-shirt, a Team Ontario pin and a hacky sack.

Participants will have until a minute before midnight on March 25, to complete their activities and submit their pictures and videos for points. The ISWO will be hosting a Closing Ceremony live on Facebook on Friday, March 26, at noon (EST), to commemorate the event and announce the winners in each age category. Five winners will be selected from each age category to win a traditional Indigenous games set, valued at $60 and a $50 Amazon gift card and the six grand prize winners, who will each walk away with a $500 Canadian Tire gift card.

“ISWO has been part of the province’s roundtable discussion on sport during the pandemic,” said Laliberte.

“We have witnessed that amateur sport has ground to a halt and with it, the access to healthy activities that are so important to our people. Having no team sports, practices, leagues, games, tournaments and championships have had a negative impact on our physical and mental health. Our athletes, their families and communities rely on these important social interactions. They help us in the path towards better health and wellness.  These games are part of the process of recovery and a return to normalcy,” he said.

He said that registration for the Virtual Games have been promising and feedback has shown that participants are looking forward to the fun competition.

With more than 900 participants in ISWO’s Well Nation January Boot Camp program, the organization is expecting a large number of participants to take part in the 2021 Well Nation Virtual Games.

“In time, we look forward to a return to being together for the sports that encourage and unite us,” he said.

The ISWO has more virtual programming in the works for the near future.

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