CFL return to play committee being headed by top doc behind NHL bubble

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Oilers

The CFL has been publicly optimistic about its proposed return to play plan for the possible 2021 season, but you might be too if you had one of the world’s top experts on your side.

Sportnet’s Arash Madani joined The SportsCage to share what he’d discovered about why the CFL was acting so self-assured. He found the answer while watching a game in the NHL’s North Division.

“Dr. Dhiren Naidu is the Oilers team doctor but he also heads up the Edmonton CFL team’s medical staff and he also was the head of the NHL’s hub city bubble back in the spring when the Stanley Cup was awarded in Edmonton,” Madani reported.

“I am told Dr. Naidu is front and centre in running the CFL side of things now as they look towards a return to play protocol for a hopeful 2021 season.”

The CFL has followed the NHL’s lead when it comes to gaining government support for playing north of the border during the pandemic and Dr. Naidu has been a big part of that.

The league and CFLPA began meetings during the second week of February with a focus on putting football on the field this year, culminating in the submission of a return to play health and safety plan to various levels of government last week.

When it comes to that committee, Dr. Naidu may actually hold more weight than commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“I’m told on that return to play committee, Randy Ambrosie isn’t as involved as you might think he would be,” Madani said. “The CFL is going with somebody who has CFL experience and who is familiar with not just the NHL bubble, but the whole Canadian medical system too.”

The credentials of Dr. Naidu are enough to make the normally pessimistic Madani show just a hint of optimism.

“That’s just a little nugget that I think — even though they’re not going with a bubble format — is a really encouraging sign,” he admitted. “They are using somebody who understands what it takes to get professional sports done, from practices to locker rooms to meeting rooms, all those things.”

While Dr. Naidu’s involvement wasn’t common knowledge, it hasn’t been a secret either. In an interview in late January, Edmonton Football Team president Chris Presson went so far as to call him one of the league’s ‘biggest diamonds in the rough’.

“He’s our biggest advocate and he has a lot of credibility with the province, and with all the provinces,” Presson said.

Naidu was the architect of getting the NHL back on the ice at the height of the pandemic and his team continues to lay the groundwork for the CFL, with the Edmonton Oilers becoming the first Canadian NHL team to formally propose fans in the stands earlier this week.

The result of that proposal will be massive for the league, as will having a respected voice as their advocate, but Madani isn’t ready to go all sunshine and rainbows just yet.

The commissioner has stated publicly that COVID-19 testing will be a million dollar investment per team for 2021 and even with Naidu’s support, he’s unsure if the league can surpass that important hurdle.

“Fundamentally what is going to happen here is the CFL is going to want to test as little as  the government will allow them to because tests are expensive,” Madani said.

“In the NBA, on game days players are tested upwards of three times a day. On off days, up to twice a day. Their morning coffee includes a stick going up their nose. The CFL quite simply will not be able to afford that.”

Dr. Naidu might be an important voice, but he won’t be the one writing those cheques.