Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod ‘not in a position to sign off’ on CFL return to play

Photo courtesy: Government of Ontario

Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod was blunt and honest why the provincial government has yet to provide the green light for the CFL to return to play in the province.

MacLeod has been in constant contact with three-down league officials regarding the potential for a season this year.

“We’re simply not in a position to sign off on return to play for the CFL at this moment. We were close, but the ground has shifted significantly,” MacLeod said during a videoconference on April 15.

“We were getting close toward the end of March, but I think it’s been very clear that the health conditions across Ontario are not at a place where we can sign off on return to play.”

On Thursday, Ontario set a new single-day high reporting 4,736 new cases of COVID-19 — that number pushed the total over 400,000 in the province since the pandemic began. Due to the spiking case counts, premier Doug Ford declared a one-month lockdown on April 7.

“The numbers in Ontario spiked and we were in a stay at home order. Rather than loosening some restrictions within the economy, we saw enhanced restrictions. These are all very difficult conversations, but necessary ones for us to have,” MacLeod said.

“We are in a stay at home order, so we are guided by Dr. David Williams and the chief medical officer of health. Until there is sign off by the health table, there will not be a resumption of play.”

“That is not my decision, or Doug Ford’s decision, or the cabinet’s decision, it’s a decision we take together with the chief medical officer of health. It would be irresponsible to congregate any type of athlete at this moment without rigorous standards and protocols.”

The league office and players’ union began meetings during the second week of February with a focus on playing football in 2021. The two sides have submitted return to play health and safety plans to various levels of government in Canada. Each province would have to give approval with the feds needing to provide the final stamp.

The CFL unveiled its 2021 schedule in November with the pre-season slated to begin on Sunday, May 23. The regular season is scheduled to get underway on Thursday, June 10 and the Grey Cup is currently set for Sunday, November 21 in Hamilton.

“On the bright side, the work that I’m doing at the jobs and recovery committee cabinet does include what a framework would look like for these types of re-openings at the appropriate time,” MacLeod said.

“But unfortunately, just given the health care situation we find ourselves in now, that has all been delayed.”

Ontario has three of the nine CFL teams within its provincial borders, the Ottawa Redblacks, Toronto Argonauts, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

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