TORONTO — Canada Soccer has suspended all sanctioned soccer activities, effective immediately, because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In essence, the governing body is asking its more than 810,000 players, referees and coaches — using the number from its most recent 2018 annual report — to down tools.
The move is unprecedented. A Canada Soccer spokesman said while the association itself closed during the two world wars, soccer continued to be played.
Canada Soccer called Friday's sweeping decision "crucial to ensure the safety of our players, coaches, officials, staff and fans."
"Given the extraordinary nature of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and after close dialogue with our membership and public health authorities, Canada Soccer has taken the necessary decision to suspend all domestic soccer activity as well as national team programming to ensure the well-being of all involved," Steven Reed, president of the Canadian Soccer Association, said in a statement.
"In order to protect the safety of our participants and contribute to the global effort to curb the spread of the disease, the suspension of all soccer activity for the foreseeable future is crucial," added Dr. Andrew Pipe, chair of the Canada Soccer medicine committee.
Hockey Canada did the same Thursday, deciding to cancel all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities, including national championships, until further notice. Hockey Canada says it had 643,958 players registered in 2018-19, with 92,273 coaches.
Much of the soccer in the country falls under provincial jurisdiction, with the those bodies members of Canada Soccer. Ontario and Nova Scotia are already on board with the decision to suspend soccer activities and the rest are expected to follow suit.
Earlier Friday, Canada Soccer announced the cancellation of international friendlies involving the men's and women's national teams in B.C. in March and April. The Canadian men were slated to host Trinidad on March 27 and 31 in Langford while the women were to face Australia on April 14 in Vancouver.
The matches would likely not have happened anyway given a FIFA decision Friday to forgo the normal rules that oblige clubs to release players for national team matches for the international windows in March/April.
"The situation is rapidly evolving across the world and various international travel restrictions have already been imposed by different public authorities," FIFA said.
FIFA recommended all international matches previously scheduled for March and April be postponed "until such time that they can take place in a safe and secure environment, both for players and for the general public."
Also Friday, CONCACAF suspended all of its soccer competitions scheduled over the next 30 days including a men's Olympic qualifier in Mexico that Canada was to have taken part in.
And the Canadian Premier League put a 14-day hold on all pre-season training, saying the decision was made to "ensure a safe environment for our teams in the wake of COVID 19." The league is slated to kick off its second season on April 11, with the tight timeline meaning more schedule adjustments may be needed.
The 2020 Canada Soccer Futsal Canadian Championship, scheduled for April 2-4 in Kingston, Ont., will now be held in the spring of 2021. Other national team programming, either domestically or abroad, has been put on hold until further notice.
Other areas affected include:
— The Canada Soccer Super REX Centre in Markham has been closed effective immediately.
— All coaching courses and any referee programming has been postponed until at least the end of April and no in-person Canada Soccer board or committee meetings will be held.
— Travel approvals for all pro and amateur teams will be rescinded until further notice with no travel permitted for teams outside of Canada. Any team already out of the country will be required to adhere to the quarantine regulations of their respective provinces or territories as well as the federal government.
The March internationals were important for the Canadian men, who are in search of valuable FIFA ranking points in a bid to secure the most direct route of World Cup qualifying in the region.
The men are currently ranked seventh in CONCACAF (and 73rd in the world) behind No. 6 El Salvador (No. 69 in the world). With 1,346 points, El Salvador is 14 ahead of Canada.
Canada coach John Herdman had said two wins over No. 105 Trinidad could net his team 7.5 to eight points. It now appears Canada is running out of matches and time to catch El Salvador.
The top six CONCACAF teams after the June international window make the so-called Hex qualifying round, which will send three teams from the region to Qatar 2022.
Failure to make the Hex means a more convoluted qualifying schedule for teams ranked seventh through 35th in the confederation. The last team standing will meet the fourth-place Hex finisher to determine who represents CONCACAF in an intercontinental playoff for a berth in the World Cup.
CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, had already made the decision to suspend Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League play.
CONCACAF said the decision was made "with the welfare of everyone involved in mind, and in light of developing travel restrictions and public health guidance."
It said it was considering options on "how and when to reconvene these competitions."
CONCACAF is the only confederation not to have already qualified its teams for the Tokyo Olympic men's soccer competition. Fourteen other countries are already in the field.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press