With COVID-19 putting the brakes on almost every series of state games, national multisport events that require athletes to qualify at their local level in order to participate have found themselves in a difficult position this year. Events that cater to senior and masters athletes are even harder hit since they represent a particularly vulnerable population. The National Senior Games Association, however, has found a solution and its workaround could provide a template for other large events.
NSGA, which hosts its National Senior Games Presented by Humana every other year, has been preparing for its next event, to be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from November 5-18, 2021. (Details about the event are available here). In order to qualify to participate in a medal sport being presented there, athletes would normally need to medal in that sport in their state senior games in 2020.
With the large-scale disruption to sports nationwide, however, many events in state senior games have had to be cancelled or indefinitely postponed, leading to the need for (what officials hope will be) a one-time adjusted qualification process.
The full policy can be accessed on this page of NSGA’s website. The main points are as follows:
- If a state is able to conduct its own games or specific sports/events in 2020, the qualification standards for the sports/events as specified in the 2021 NSGA Rulebook will determine qualifiers. In addition athletes from that state’s senior games who qualified for the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will also qualify in the respective sports/events for the National Senior Games in 2021 (i.e., qualifiers from 2018 respective sports/events from that state’s senior games).
- If a state qualifying senior games is unable to conduct Games or specific sports/events in 2020, athletes from that state’s senior games who qualified for the 2017 National Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama, and/or 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque will qualify in the respective sports/events for the 2021 National Senior Games (i.e., qualifiers from 2016 and/or 2018 respective sports/events from that state’s senior games).
- For qualified athletes, a Priority Registration Period will be offered which will be followed by an Open Registration Period. (The Open Registration Period will accommodate athletes age 50+ as of December 31, 2020, unable to attend or qualify at a state senior games in 2020).
According to Sue Hlavacek, director of events and programs with NSGA, the policy came about as the result of the NSGA staff creating several qualification scenarios. The staff then shared these scenarios with a focus group of state coordinators for discussion and presented the best scenario to the NSGA Board of Directors for approval.
“We wanted to do what was best,” she noted, “so we really brainstormed.”
And as with everything else, it’s a matter of trying to create the best possible scenario, albeit at a time when it is impossible to know which way the virus will shift, when a vaccine will be available or even whether individuals will feel confident enough to travel to sports events.
And with many state games events being held at college sports venues, in parks, in municipal buildings and in gyms (many of which remain closed with no set reopening dates), the ability to reschedule events at the state level in time remains in doubt.
“Some universities have already said they’re going online in the fall,” said Hlavacek, “so access is going to continue to be difficult.”
Hlavacek says the reception for the new qualification process has been uniformly positive, with athletes grateful they are being given a mechanism to attend the Games in 2021. And since a great deal of time and effort went into development of the policies, it’s rewarding to see athletes respond happily to them.
“We started to have these conversations in February and March; and it was early on that the spring state qualifiers state games were beginning to be postponed,” Hlavacek recalls. “We pulled together our focus group and explored every possible option for how to do this. What resulted is the adjusted qualifying process that best addressed a situation in which some qualifying games could not be held. It may not be the best for everybody, but it allows us to stay true to the people who are really dedicated to our organization and to attending these games. We wanted to give them every opportunity to come back to us.”