Ontario premier Doug Ford: no ‘large sporting events’ to take place this summer

Photo courtesy: Government of Ontario

Ontario premier Doug Ford emerged from a period of media silence on Thursday.

Ford did so to extend the province’s current stay-at-home orders and restrictions until at least June 2 as his government continues to fight against the third wave of COVID-19.

While the premier remains optimistic as the province continues to bend the coronavirus curve, he also tempered expectations for CFL fans and others hoping to rush back into stadiums in the near future.

“We need to do everything in our power to protect this summer for all Ontarians. My goal is to have the most normal July and August possible. Obviously, that won’t mean large sporting events or concerts,” Ford said.

“But if we manage the next few weeks properly, I believe we can have things in a very good place this summer.”

The CFL has targeted August 5 as a potential kick-off date for their planned 14-game regular season with the Grey Cup slated for December 12. While the league is making progress towards a finalized schedule, that start date is in jeopardy.

Also on Thursday, Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod stated that her province has not yet approved the CFL’s return to play plan and would give no definitive timeline for moving forward. That followed a similar admission by the province of British Columbia recently.

The CFL has stated that it requires a ‘significant’ number of fans to be allowed in stadiums around opening day to proceed. While some teams have placed that number around 5,000 fans, MacLeod noted that modest total seemed ‘ambitious’ for Ontario.

Ford didn’t clarify what he defines as a ‘large’ sporting event, but his statement Thursday echoes those reservations along with MacLeod. While case counts continue to trend downward, the province cannot afford to take half measures.

“While we are seeing positive trends as a result of the public health measures put in place, we cannot afford to let up yet,” Ford said.

“We must stay vigilant to ensure our ICU numbers stay down and our hospital capacity is protected. If we stay the course for the next two weeks, and continue vaccinating record numbers of Ontarians every day, we can begin looking forward to July and August and having the summer that everyone deserves.”

Other forms of public outdoor recreation could resume as early as June 2, but doesn’t include the CFL. For example, golf courses are currently closed in Ontario.

The league has said that a decision on whether to proceed with the August start date will be made in mid-June and while contingencies are being prepared, the CFL remains at the mercy of the virus and only a significant downward case trend will provide hope.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.