Pro athlete push for WCB in BC
Contracted athletes push for compensation when injured, CFL appears to be loudest in opposition
Professional athletes from British Columbia are seeking compensation under WorkSafeBC. Professional athletes are not currently covered under WorkSafeBC and lack access to programs for which other professions get support. Workers who get hurt on the job have the ability to apply for extra expenses, compensation for loss of pay, and special medical care that is covered by WorkSafeBC.
Canadian athletes are not eligible for workers’ compensation if they get injured in a game or practice. However, much of the United States does compensate its athletes in this regard. This means that if Canadian players were to get hurt, there are few resources they can access compared to those who are compensated. There is a current push for the worker compensation board in British Columbia to consider whether professional athletes should be covered.
If the board were to approve professional athletes under their provision, then British Columbia would be the first province to cover professional athletes. WorkSafeBC is in the early stages of determining if they should cover professional athletes, part of a four-year assessment of their policy. The public and private support from lawmakers, including John Horgan, is beneficial for athletes going into this policy process, with many lawmakers hoping that new legislation won’t have to be implemented.
According to WorkSafeBC spokesperson Yesenia Dhott, “Covering pro athletes in the province would require policy changes, and potentially modification of the province’s occupational health and safety regulations.” This isn’t the first time that leagues and athletes have proposed changes in policies. However, this time they seem to have the backing of lawmakers, which is a positive step for their campaigns. But not every sports league in British Columbia is on board with the new proposal.
The Canadian Football League (CFL) is in opposition of the proposal that injuries be covered under WorkSafeBC because they believe that athletes understand and are responsible for the risk that they are exposed to when they compete, and that if policies were to change, they would have to change how their sport is played.
In a 2019 submission to WorkSafeBC, CFL lawyers said that “the CFL and its constituent owners ought not to bear the entire burden for players who have voluntarily decided to participate in an activity that carries with it inherent risk, that cannot be eliminated through regulation or best practices and who have spent decades putting inordinate strain on their bodies in order to achieve professional player status.”
Some argue that the reason why some leagues are reluctant to get on board is that they would have to pay required fees to workers compensation across Canada. Leagues would also be responsible for funding the system since they are considering the employers in this case, with premiums established by the injury rate.
Adding professional athletes to the workers’ compensation fund could hold leagues to higher levels of accountability when it comes to player safety. The journey toward providing athletes with worker compensation benefits has been a long-winded process, but continued progress to improve player safety is being made.