British Columbia has not approved CFL’s return-to-play plan

Photo courtesy: Government of British Columbia

While the B.C. Lions hope to play home games in Vancouver, the province’s health officer has not approved the return-to-play protocols proposal that the team and league has produced.

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office responded to a 3DownNation inquiry with an exclusive statement: “The BC Lions have made a recent proposal for a return to play and the office of the B.C. Provincial Health Officer is currently reviewing the submission and consulting with the federal government. We will have more to say about what a return to play for the BC Lions may look like in the coming weeks ahead.”

That statement contradicts a national report last week, posted online and revealed on the televised coverage of the Canadian Draft, that each of the six provinces had approved the CFL’s return-to-play proposal.

Henry’s message falls in line with her comments at a news conference last Monday in British Columbia.

“There will not be big events where there’s lots of crowds of people this summer,” Dr.
Henry said May 3.

“There is not likely to be big events — of any sort — even outdoors through this summer, and into the fall, and winter of next year.”

British Columbia’s sports minister Melanie Mark reiterated that there have been no approvals given to the Lions or the CFL.

“Ultimately the Provincial Health Officer will determine when the return to play plan meets the criteria that will ensure the safety of all players, staff and British Columbians,” Mark said in an exclusive statement to 3DownNation.

“We are also working with our colleagues across Canada to find a national consensus to incorporate the interprovincial travel a season would entail.”

Coronavirus case counts have been steadily declining on the West coast since mid-April under new public health orders. The province went from over 1,200 per day to well under four digits in a matter of weeks.

Recently, the three-day Honda Celebration of Light fireworks event — one of Vancouver’s most popular summer celebrations — was cancelled.

The Pacific National Exhibition, usually held from mid-August to Labour Day weekend, also won’t happen in 2021 — even with fair organizers pitching a modified, lower capacity gathering.

The CFL is hoping for a 14-game season, targeted to begin August 5, right around the time those now-cancelled events were scheduled to take place. Most importantly, the league has said a ‘significant’ number of fans must be allowed in stadiums around opening day to proceed with kick-off and people not being allowed to attend outside fireworks or fair doesn’t seem to bode well for the CFL’s timeline.

The league and union began meetings during the second week of February with a focus on playing football this year. The two sides have submitted return to play health and safety plans to various levels of government in Canada.

“I know football fans can’t wait to get back to cheering on their favourite teams like the iconic BC Lions. Staff in my ministry and in the regional health authorities have been working with the league on what a safe return to play could look like,” added Mark, B.C. sport minister.

“Our government announced a $5 billion Action Plan to support people, businesses, and services with reductions in property tax bills and deferrals of other tax payments like EHT and PST.”

“This plan supports sport organizations like the CFL league and its team in BC. We continue to work across ministries to find creative solutions and with the federal government to define what their supports for the sport sector will look like.”

“We will continue to work with the CFL and the rest of the sports sector to support them through this time and to be ready to get back to the field as soon as it is safe to do so.”

After a nasty COVID-19 outbreak ran through the Vancouver Canucks, the province’s beloved NHL franchise barely got back on the ice and will finish last in the North Division. Dr. Henry appears to be practicing patience when it comes to allowing pro sports to be played in B.C. after the Canucks epidemic happened on her watch.

As much as Dr. Henry herself may be looking forward to getting to a B.C. Lions game, the health officer is not going to rush football back on the field during the pandemic. And, clearly, the return-to-play protocols have not been approved.

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