Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo calls CFL hub city plan ‘encouraging’

Good news emerged Friday in the quest for government funding for a potential shortened CFL season in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government’s deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo stated Health Canada was reviewing the hub city protocols proposed by the CFL and had a positive outlook.

“Yes, we have had or we still are having ongoing discussions with the Canadian Football League. Again in the area of professional sports, what I can say is that what has been submitted to us, I think is encouraging,” Njoo said.

The CFL has chosen Winnipeg as its tentatively approved hub city if a condensed season occurs. According to officials, the plan to create a CFL bubble would require players to self-isolate for 14 days prior to arrival in the Manitoba capital, then for another seven once inside the bubble. Players would be tested on their first day in Winnipeg, sixth day and 13th day, with no outside persons allowed into the bubble. Violators would be sent home immediately.

“In principle, I would say that so far I think it’s the same as we had for the NHL. They’re going with the similar kind of model that we had with the NHL in terms of quote a hub city and using a tight quaratine type bubble,” Njoo said.

“If there are players coming from outside the country, certainly from a federal perspective it’s all about crossing the border, doing your 14-day quarantine in a safe manner. And then after that the actual how the season might unfold in a very tightly controlled circumstance with regular testing, not really interaction with the general public and also no fans in the stands. I think it’s something we can work with.”

Positive government response to health protocols is an essential component of the government assistance that the league desperately needs to play games this year. There has been growing positivity that the league could receive an interest-free loan from the federal government valued at close to $30 million.

Approval of health protocols is one of the requirements for that loan, with a structured repayment plan being the other. The CFL must also reach a deal on an amended collective bargaining agreement with the CFLPA and a restructured broadcast deal with TSN before anything else can become official. Even if the public health outlook is positive, there is still some amendments that must be made before anything is approved.

“From the Manitoba health perspective, I think they’re comfortable with what has been put forward so far, but there are still some details and some other aspects we need to discuss,” Njoo said.

“Obviously there’s still details to be worked out and my understanding is they’ve had discussions, we’ve had discussions as well with Manitoba health officials.”

After no decision on a season was made after meeting on Thursday, Canadian Press reporter Dan Ralph reports that the CFL board of governors will hold a rare videoconference on back-to-back days on Friday. The clock is ticking on the possibility of a CFL season, but it also appears the action is heating up.