Government, school officials agree to resume high school rugby in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX — High school rugby players in Nova Scotia will be returning to the pitch to finish their season, although the sport’s future status remains to be determined.

The decision to resume play following last week’s abrupt cancellation of the season over safety concerns came after a meeting Tuesday between Education Department officials and the governing body for high school sports in the province.

In a joint statement, the department and the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation said they have agreed to let Rugby Nova Scotia manage the rest of the season, including regional and provincial playoffs.

“It means rugby’s back on and that our student athletes should be engaged in safe play on rugby fields across the province,” Education Minister Zach Churchill, who had called for rugby to be reinstated, said in an interview.

The department said that over the summer it will work with medical experts, the federation and Rugby Nova Scotia — the sport’s governing body in the province — to review safety concerns. In the meantime, the sport, though unsanctioned by the federation, will be approved for coverage under the province’s School Insurance Program.

“I don’t anticipate any sports being on the chopping block, but we do want to look at safety standards and evaluate our options on those,” said Churchill, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting in Truro, N.S.

A high school student whose injury in a rugby game last week was invoked to explain the season’s cancellation said Tuesday that he’s recovering well and is keen to return to playing.

“I feel that rugby is a good sport and what happened to me, it’s an accident that could’ve happened to anyone, and it could happen in any sport — every sport has their own risks,” said Diego Kuri, whose injury came a day before the federation cancelled the season.

Kuri, a 16-year-old exchange student from Mexico City who attends Sydney Academy, was airlifted to a Halifax hospital last Wednesday after colliding with a player from Glace Bay High School.

“I got hit playing, it was a complete accident,” Kuri said in an interview by text. “I was running and the guy hit me in the chin. I fell and hit my head on the turf, and that’s when I got injured.”

Kuri, who is now back in Sydney with his brother and mother, said he hopes to return to the field once he is cleared to play contact sports.

His injury was mentioned by Stephen MacNeil, chairman of the athletic federation’s board of governors, when he explained to reporters on Friday why the season was being cancelled.

Although MacNeil didn’t draw a direct link, he said administrators couldn’t ignore the Sydney incident, along with the death last May of 18-year-old P.E.I. rugby player Brodie McCarthy, in making their decision.

When asked what should happen with the ban, Kuri gave a cautious answer. “I’m not going to intervene in that decision because it’s not my place,” he said, “but I feel like rugby helps you to be a better athlete and a better person.”

Tuesday’s meeting, attended by deputy education minister Cathy Montreuil, was called to iron out differences over rugby’s status after Churchill called on administrators Friday to resume the rugby season. Churchill’s directive followed a backlash from players, politicians and Rugby Canada.

MacNeil said Tuesday the federation is comfortable letting Rugby Nova Scotia take over management of the sport.

“We’re thrilled that they are taking it on,” he said. “They expressed a desire to get more involved. We have been working with them on certain initiatives, especially with coaches’ education and other things in the past.”

MacNeil said the federation is looking forward to discussing the safety of all sports with experts and the government, but he stopped short of saying rugby would be permanently reinstated.

“They can apply to become part of our program and it will all depend what comes out of the safety meetings and what things are put in place to make rugby a safer sport for high school age students,” he said.

For his part, Churchill said he doesn’t question the federation’s intentions.

“We know that they were making a call that they believed was in the best interests of student safety, and all of us should appreciate that,” he said.

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