Maple Leafs take the lead in potentially setting precedent for fans to return in Canada

Photo courtesy:

Perhaps it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs who could set the precedent for fans attending pro sports live and in-person again in Canada.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the NHL and NBA seasons north of the border last March, no fans have been in stands across the country. Empty venues have become a familiar site for fans tuning in on television or live streaming games.

After the Edmonton Oilers submitted a proposal for fans to attend games at Rogers Place in the Alberta Capital, Scotiabank Arena has become the first sports and entertainment venue in Canada to receive the WELL health and safety approval.

It’s a key step in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment’s back-to-action plan that will include additional measures for welcoming fans back into the downtown Toronto facility, once deemed safe by local and provincial public health officials.

“We have had conversations with the Senators and the Leafs this week about what a return would look like. I know MLSE is very excited about receiving their stamp of safety, but at this point in time that’s not been cleared by the chief medical officer of health,” Ontario sports minister Lisa MacLeod said during a press conference.

Scotiabank Arena was awarded the WELL rating following the completion of an evidence-based review by meeting specific requirements for new and existing building and space types focusing on operational policies, maintenance protocols, and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and into the future.

“From cleaning and sanitization to emergency preparedness and air and water quality management, Scotiabank Arena has implemented and validated operational interventions backed by scientific evidence to help lead the way towards a healthy and resilient recovery,” International WELL Building Institute chief commercial officer Jessica Cooper said in a statement.

WELL provides a centralized source and governing body to validate efforts made by owners and operators. It leverages insights drawn from the IWBI task force on the coronavirus, in addition to guidance on the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections developed by the World Health Organization.

While an exact timeline for fans returning to venues for games at Scotiabank Arena remains undetermined, the process has at least begun which is positive for the gate-driven CFL. If fans can come through NHL turn styles prior to the end of the current season, it would mean the three-down league can entertain kicking off sooner than may have been expected.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.