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26 July 2020 | in NUSF News, FISU Student Ambassadors

U SPORTS Canada provide a platform for student-athletes to excel on and off the field

Canada 1 Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

In 2016, Canadian university sport went through a historic re-brand, including a move from the nation’s capital in Ottawa to Toronto, and the launch of a new digital identity. Three and a half years in, U SPORTS has made tremendous strides into achieving its goal of giving its 20,000 student-athletes, 56 member institutions, and 21 national championships the visibility, appreciation and reward they deserve.

 

Collectively, 8,000 games of university sport are played across Canada every year, stretching more than 7,000 kilometres coast-to-coast from Victoria, British Columbia on the Pacific Ocean to St. John’s, Newfoundland on the Atlantic.

 

U SPORTS has a vision to “provide exceptional experiences which empower today’s student-athletes to be tomorrow’s leaders.” FISU Volunteer Leaders Academy participant Kristian D’Amore spoke to U SPORTS’ Chief Sport Officer Lisette Johnson-Stapley who said, “academics are an extremely important part of the student-athlete experience in Canada. We want to provide an opportunity for Canadians to stay at home and continue their athletic and academic careers with equal, if not sometimes better, environments for success as in the NCAA.”

 

What also makes university sport in Canada so special are the key partnerships U SPORTS has with Canadian professional leagues and National Sporting Organisations. Since the re-brand in 2016, U SPORTS has solidified its reputation as a sport leader in Canada through formal collaborations with leagues like the Canadian Football League and the NHL. In 2019, ground-breaking agreements were signed with two newly launched Division 1 Canadian professional sports leagues: the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL/FIBA) and the Canadian Premier League (CPL/FIFA). 

 

Canada 3Napoli 2019 Summer Universiade flag bearer and two-time U SPORTS Athlete of the Year Kadre GreySince the inception of both leagues, U SPORTS’ talent has shone through with more than 35 U SPORTS alumni having already been drafted into the Canadian Premier League, and more than 50 into the Canadian Elite Basketball League. At the recent 2020 CEBL-U SPORTS Draft, Canada’s flag bearer at the Napoli 2019 Summer Universiade and two-time U SPORTS Athlete of the Year, Kadre Gray was selected 6th overall by the Hamilton Honey Badgers.

 

In the Canadian Premier League, former U SPORTS student-athlete with the Calgary Dinos Dominick Zator was recognized as one of the best players in the league in 2019, being named to the CPL Team of the Year. He also earned his first call-up to the Canadian senior men’s national team on their quest to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

 

These exceptional stories of U SPORTS competition breeding future professional athletes can also be seen across other sports. Lisette Johnson-Stapley shared that, “More than 160 alumni have played at least one game in the NHL, including Joel Ward who amassed an 11 year career and played nearly 750 games in the best ice hockey league in the world.” 

 

On 3 February, 2020, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the second former U SPORTS Football player to win the prestigious NFL Super Bowl. Duvernay-Tardif played at Montreal’s McGill University where he not only starred on the field, but also excelled off it. In fact, Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is also a medical doctor and has been on the frontlines back in his home province of Quebec combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

At the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, 56 athletes of the Canadian Olympic Team had previously represented Canada at the World University Games. Nine medals were won in Rio by student-athletes, including World University Games Champion and Rio 2016 bronze medalist swimmer Kylie Masse of University of Toronto.

 

Canada 2Off the field, the Governor General’s Award for the Top 8 Academic All-Canadians is a prestigious ceremony held annually at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall, with Canada’s Governor General (the Canadian Head of State and representative of Queen Elizabeth II) bestowing the commendations on the top eight male and female student-athletes in the country. The award recognizes those who excel in all aspects of being a student-athlete - success in athletics, academics, and leadership in the community.

 

In 2019, U SPORTS signed a landmark partnership with major broadcaster CBC Sports to showcase and celebrate student-athletes competing all across the country. Johnson-Stapley described the agreement as, “a unique partnership unlike our past television contracts. There will be considerable growth over a 5-year period. Our National Championships and student-athletes now have exposure on a number channels including our pay-per-view platform, on digital at CBCSports.ca, and on CBC’s main TV service in the case of our flagship Vanier Cup of Football.”

 

The future is certainly bright for Canadian university sport and its student-athletes.

 

By: Kristian D’Amore