Three prominent summer youth soccer leagues and their affiliated state championships have been canceled because of safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The leagues affected are Minnesota League One, Black & Blue Leagues and the Futures League.
“We delayed making this decision as we understand the important role soccer plays in the lives of our youth,’’ the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association said in a news release Friday. “However, player health and safety are our top priorities and we will never compromise that — especially in this pandemic. Player health and safety, an uncertain timeline, family and club consideration, and integrity of the leagues are all factors that led us to make the difficult decision to cancel.’’
The cancellations come as officials across youth sports come to grips with newly released Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for social distancing in youth sports set to go into effect June 1.
In a sharp break with how youth sports typically convene for practice and games, the guidelines call for maintaining social distancing in pods of no more than 10 people, spread out on a field, court or rink, with the same staff, volunteers and participants working together each time.
As for playing games, the answer is not yet.
“Do not participate in games or tournaments, even if these events are out of state where youth sports games/tournaments are supported,” according to the guidelines.
Still, the guidelines offer a dose of optimism for sporting activities that have been largely shut down since mid-March.
‘‘We know many players, coaches, and families can’t wait to get back to the field for a variety of reasons including social interaction, emotional well-being, and the physical benefits. We share those sentiments and hope many of those needs can start to be met on June 1,’’ the soccer group said.
The guidelines call for one team or sport on a field or rink at any one time. A football or soccer field could accommodate four pods of 10 people. A baseball field could have up to three pods of 10, while an ice rink could have up to two pods. A basketball or volleyball court can have no mor than one pod.
Taking those steps come as organizers and officials involved in soccer and other sports have expressed concern about falling participation amid uncertainty about the coronavirus.
“To date, several MYSA teams have indicated they will not participate this summer if leagues or events are offered, and we believe more teams will follow suit,’’ the group’s statement said. “This reduction in teams naturally challenges the integrity of the league. We know clubs and teams don’t want teams extended travel and potentially lopsided games.’’
"Plans remain to have a 'normal' fall season with tryouts beginning in July. Should any of this change, we will let everyone know immediately. Please keep in mind, that we will continue to follow our Return to Play Plan and the Governor’s guidance on how to progress."
Youth hockey games remain on hold, too.
The Minnesota Ice Arena Managers Association announced that arenas can reopen June 1, allowing practices of “no more than two pods of 10” on the ice at the same time.
June 1 also marks the beginning of the high school summer waiver period, when offseason camps and clinics can begin. However, some school athletic directors expressed concern this week about being prepared for having such events in their gyms and weight rooms and on their fields.
At a video meeting of nearly 340 people hosted by the Minnesota State High School League on Thursday, a concern was raised about school liability should someone contract COVID-19 during such a gathering. Sentiment was expressed for delaying the start of the summer waiver period until mid-June.
League officials said schools are free to be more restrictive than the state guidelines suggest.
“A short or long delay in the summer season could be coming,’’ said Erich Martens, executive director of the Minnesota State High School League. “If you think about camps and clinics, it’s going to be difficult regardless when they open up.’’