PHOENIX (3TV CBS 5) -- The Phoenix City Council has voted to shut down all organized sports activities, including youth tournaments, at parks and fields amid concerns over increasing cases of COVID-19.

In a 7-2 vote, the members decided starting Thursday, Dec. 3, all field allocations and reservations will be canceled. This includes all scheduled youth sports tournaments.

All sports fields and park amenities such as basketball courts, Ramadas, picnic tables, fitness equipment, volleyball courts, and sports complexes will be closed. All other amenities, including playgrounds, grass areas, park restrooms, city hiking trails, and golf courses will remain open.

The shut down will remain in place until at least February 2021. The City Council will also look at COVID-19 benchmarks, wanting them to return to similar levels from Sept. 6 when the positivity rate was 4.8%. 

Last weekend, more than 500 teams from across the country took part in a huge soccer tournament in the Phoenix-metro area, raising concerns that events like these put the community at risk.

The Phoenix City Council heard from a number of health experts Wednesday, who recommended that the city suspend games and tournaments. 

There has been no direct link between youth sports and the spread of COVID-19, but city leaders decided to take additional precautions, despite objections from some coaches and parents.

"This is about the kids"

Mike Calao is a coach with Swarm Baseball. He said that safety measures are already in place to protect kids, coaches, and fans, and suspending games is not necessary. Calao would have preferred to see additional enforcement instead of closing the fields down.

"Strictly enforce the distancing and masks and have officials go around basically saying, 'If you don't wear a mask, you have to leave the facility,'" said Calao. "This is about the kids, not even about parents or extended family watching."

Brett Johnson is president of the Scottsdale Cal Ripken Baseball League. He said with what kids have gone through this year, playing sports is something they desperately need and shouldn't be taken away.

"As the father of three boys that are all teenagers, there's a lot they get out of sports - their frustrations and daily ups and downs," said Johnson. "Sports is a good outlet for that, and it is important for children to have an outlet beyond being locked up in quarantine."

Rex Gonzalez with Arizona T-Rex Baseball Club says the city will also miss out on financial benefits as some big-time tournaments are already talking about moving to Texas or Florida.

"The trickle down of this could be great," he said.

But, he especially worries about high school juniors and seniors who are trying to make their best impressions for college scouts.

"If we aren’t even on the fields they cant even send them videos this could have a greater effect not only on the athletic side of it but also the educational side on whether or not they’ll have an opportunity to get a scholarship," Gonzalez said.

Other cities like Tempe, Goodyear, and Surprise have also shutdown youth sports fields. 

Response from City Council members

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego issued the following statement after the vote:

This is an unprecedented time for the City of Phoenix that requires strong action to curb the skyrocketing spread of Covid-19 in our community. The City Council took that action today through its decision to temporarily close the city’s athletic fields, basketball and volleyball courts, and sports complexes to tournaments and organized games until the metrics reflect that we have returned to a lower risk level.

I share the concerns of parents who are worried about the mental health and welfare of their children. By taking action now, we will move more quickly to a time when it is safe to play games and tournaments on city fields.

Let me emphasize: the decision was not to close all city parks and playgrounds. Instead, we have closed athletic fields, basketball and volleyball courts, and sports complexes to tournaments and organized games. I encourage people to continue to cautiously exercise outdoors in our parks, while strictly following CDC guidelines for masking and physical distancing. The good news about vaccines shows us there is light at the end of the tunnel. We need to stay strong until then.

Youth soccer tournament goes on amid COVID-19 concerns

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who voted against the ban, released the following statement.

“UTTER FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP: Mayor Gallego has spent months attacking the state over their COVID measures, but has not proposed even one single bold move of her own. Not one single bold move. Instead, she has repeatedly relied on knee-jerk reactions like we saw today regarding the parks. To be clear, Phoenix has no plan to protect the general public from COVID. No plan to protect our seniors from COVID. None.

If the mayor is so concerned about the COVID virus, she might want to spend a little more time developing a real public health plan for the entire general public and a little less time grandstanding and attacking others. I do not have to agree with the plan, but at least do something other than just talk about it.”

The City Council will get weekly updates on benchmarks to help determine a safe reopening. Education platforms will be created to encourage park visitors to wear masks and social distance. The guidelines include:

  • Do not use public recreational amenities if you are exhibiting symptoms of illness
  • Wear a mask or face covering
  • Bring your own wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Keep a safe distance of six feet or more from others

For a full rundown on the results of today's city council meeting, click here.

 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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