Challenges Face Canadian Athletes Hoping to Compete in 2020 ISL Season

A meeting with Swimming Canada on Wednesday has left several Canadian swimmers anxious about their participation in the 2020 season of the International Swimming League.

While Swimming Canada has not blocked their athletes from participating, as their colleagues in Australia have done, the meeting presented challenges that would face any Canadian athletes based in Canada who might hope to participate in the second season of the league.

A spokesperson for Swimming Canada says that the goal of the meeting was not to block athletes from going, but rather to present factual information to make sure that athletes are informed about the risks that might face them upon participation, including the “relatively high” rate of infection in Budapest.

“Our focus is on supporting the athletes to be the best they can be to represent Canada at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the spokesperson said, while acknowledging that racing is an important part of that preparation.

“Swimming Canada has decided not to do international travel for camps and/or competitions through at least the end of the year. This has been communicated to all carded athletes multiple times over the past few months, with the aim to keep all risks as low as possible for our athletes and clubs and all Canadians.

“For activities outside of Swimming Canada’s scope (e.g. not a FINA or World Para Swimming activity or Swimming Canada event) our role is to ensure athletes and coaches receive as much information as we have, and confirm they understand potential risks. Specific to the ISL, our focus will be to advise the athletes, and support whatever decision they make as best we can, just as we support their choices to train in a High Performance Centre, a Canadian club or university, or club or university outside of Canada.”

Among the challenges presented include the most basic requirements as part of the ISL’s health protocol: that all athletes must have 2 negative tests before traveling to Budapest in October.

A testing shortage in Canada has led to a backlog in conducting tests, with many unable to get tests without symptoms.

Some relief is coming, at least in Ontario, to that problem, however. On Friday, as many as 60 of the Province’s pharmacies will start administering tests for novel coronavirus to those not experiencing symptoms after an uptick of new cases have been experienced there. While some of those pharmacies have told the CBC that they aren’t ready, because of either supplies or training, this will at least begin to expand testing opportunities for some Canadians.

The other primary challenge is the looming regulation of a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon return to the country from abroad, even without symptoms.

According to the Government of Canada in website, individuals returning to Canada “MUST quarantine for 14 days, provide contact information, and monitor (themselves) for symptoms.” Unlike some municipal mandatory quarantine orders in both Canada and the US, this order is “subject to verification and enforcement,” punishable with fines, imprisonment, and transfer to a quarantine facility.

Among the restrictions: individuals returning from abroad may not leave their place of quarantine unless it is to seek medical assistance.

That would mean up to 2 weeks of no training with the Canadian Olympic Trials looming in April. For athletes whose teams qualify for the final, this could mean a double dose of missed training if they were to return to Canada, though there is talk of providing a training opportunity abroad, either as part of the Energy Standard group in Turkey, in Budapest, or in the host site for the ISL post-season, for athletes who don’t wish to return home between the regular season and finale.

In the meeting, Swimming Canada specifically told athletes that they do support the ISL, and High Performance Director John Atkinson concluded the meeting by “encouraging everyone to move forward at their own comfort level.”

The country received an expansion franchise this season in the form of the Toronto Titans.

Of the 10 teams in the league in season 2, 8 have Canadians on their rosters. The exceptions are the New York Breakers and the Cali Condors. Of the 19 Canadians in the league, 12 swim for the Titans.

So far, no Canadian swimmers have announced their withdrawal from the league after the meeting, and those that SwimSwam have spoken to have indicated a more general ‘uncertainty’ about what their plan is going to be.

The country’s top swimmer from the 2016 Olympics, 20-year old Penny Oleksiak, was never announced on a roster for this season after swimming for Energy Standard last year. She won gold in the 100 free at the 2016 Olympic Games, tying with American Simone Manuel, among 4 total medals.

The ISL on Wednesday released a statement, without naming any specific countries or federations, claiming ‘bullying’ of athletes as it relates to the league. There have so far been widespread withdrawals by athletes from Australia and Italy.

Canada to date has recorded 148,165 positive tests for coroanvirus leading to 9,244 deaths linked to COVID-19. Of the country’s 10,847 recognized ‘currently infected patients,’ about 1% (86) are currently in “Serious or Critical” condition, according to Worldometers.

As their neighbors in the US saw a spike in the summer, Canada managed to keep cases low throughout that period. In September, however, the number of new daily cases has begun to rise in Canada, with Monday’s count of 1,766 cases being the country’s highest single-day total since May. So far, deaths have not increased at the same rate, averaging fewer than 10-per-day this month.

Energy Standard

  • Mary-Sophie Harvey

Aqua Centurion

  • Haley Black

DC Trident

  • Bailey Andison

Tokyo Frog Kings

Toronto Titans

  • Mack Darragh
  • Brent Hayden
  • Yuri Kisil
  • Finlay Knox
  • Cole Pratt
  • Elijah Wall
  • Tess Cieplucha
  • Kylie Masse
  • Emily Overholt
  • Rebecca Smith
  • Kelsey Wog
  • Kayla Sanchez (finals only)


  • Danica Ludlow

London Roar

  • Sydney Pickrem

LA Current


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4 months ago

Not only Canadian athletes might have issues in getting test results back. How will positive tests be handled? I’m sure there will be some positives..

Mrs. Swimming
4 months ago

That 14-day quarantine really seems like a death-blow to any athletes with Olympic aspirations wanting to compete. Voluntarily accepting 2 weeks out of the pool in an Olympic year? After being forced out of the pool for months, seems crazy to pass up that much pool time right now to go race short course. Really hope Swimming Canada can work with the government to get them exemptions to quarantining upon return, perhaps via extra testing.

Corn Pop
Reply to  Mrs. Swimming
4 months ago

Why not put a visit to a facility for the care of the fragile on their itinery also ? Surely everyone should have the benefit of these non quarantined travellers.

4 months ago

It seems like the swimmers are being bullied and threatened by the covid protocols in place. I would expect you could come out of quarantine sooner by producing a negative test result.

Last edited 4 months ago by Taa
Reply to  Taa
4 months ago

Swimming Canada, or any other sports governing body, can’t override the local health authority. While it sucks for the athletes, I think it is important to continue to maintain proper health protocols for the sake of everyone

Reply to  Taa
4 months ago

Apparently not being given special treatment is bullying these days.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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