The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are planning for fans in the stands in 2021, but local doctors believe that may be little more than a pipe dream.
Club president and CEO Wade Miller was optimistic in his comments to CBC Manitoba’s Bartley Kives on Wednesday when asked about the return of fans to IG Field this season, expressing hope that the national vaccination roll-out will allow the team to put butts in seats this summer.
“In November, before vaccinations, before drugs were approved, we were very hopeful that we would be able to have fans back. Now you’re seeing vaccinations roll out and there’s still a lot of time,” Miller said.
With the scheduled start of the CFL season just 140 days away, however, medical professionals aren’t buying the cheerful outlook Miller is selling.
“I struggle to imagine a scenario where hundreds or thousands of people in the stands is either possible or desirable,” said Dr. Jillian Horton a hospital-based Winnipeg internist and advocate for tougher pandemic restrictions.
“I relate to the deep desire people have to see these normal landmarks and milestones come back into our lives,” Horton continued. “I don’t know how much more disappointment we want to set ourselves up for here.”
Manitoba had extremely low COVID-19 case numbers in the summer, which included a string of zero positive tests from June 29 to July 12, 2020. The province later became a hot spot for the virus, consistently reporting between 200 and 500 new cases per day during the months of November and December.
Harsher restrictions to combat that rise in cases are just now being lifted, but Miller is undeterred.
“I’m going to listen to our prime minister that people could be vaccinated by September and everybody could get a shot that wants one,” Miller said.
“So I’m going to be very positive that we’re going to be able to get back on the field with our fans in the stands, like our schedule is right now.”
The projected numbers are working against the CFL team. While the federal government has remained consistent on mass vaccination by September, Manitoba projects just 30 percent of residents will be stuck with a needle come CFL kickoff. While Saskatchewan and B.C. have more favourable vaccination strategies, Alberta is even further behind, leading to a murky outlook for the CFL.
The Bombers are prepping contingencies for a much reduced capacity and stringent safety protocols at IG Field in the fall but, like many CFL teams, are desperate for the return of their largest revenue stream. That might not occur as quickly as they hope and Dr. Horton had one final word of caution.
“A much slower, smaller, incremental rise in expectations may be a better idea.”