The CFL is hoping to have fans in the stands in a significant number of stadiums across the country in time for an August 5 kickoff, but it looks increasingly like Toronto won’t be one of those venues.
City officials issued a news release early Friday, cancelling permits for all major outdoor events in July and August. The release extends cancellations that were already in effect until June 30.
“To continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help provide predictability to major event organizers, the City of Toronto is extending the cancellation of in-person City-led and City-permitted outdoor events to September 6,” the statement read.
“The City understands the importance of these events to Toronto’s vitality, liveability and prosperity. City staff are working in close collaboration with event organizers, who in every instance possible have been consulted on this approach and given advance notice of this decision. The City is committed to working closely with event organizers to help them manage through 2021 and come back stronger in 2022.”
The announcement affects a number of major Toronto festivals from Caribana to the Honda Indy. Most notably, it means the Canadian National exhibition will not take place for the second straight year.
Events held at BMO Field, within site of the CNE grounds, will also be affected. Though not explicitly mentioned in the statement, Rick Zamperin of 900 CHML reports the announcement will bar fan attendance for Toronto Argonauts games until after the September 6 deadline.
The news comes on the heels of similarly glum news at the provincial level on Thursday. Ontario minister of sport Lisa MacLeod began by revealing the province had not yet green-lit the CFL’s return to play proposal, calling fans in the stand ‘ambitious,’ while premier Doug Ford announced later in the day that no ‘large sporting events’ would take 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 viewed as a precarious one.
The CFL has stated that it requires a ‘significant’ number of fans to be allowed in stadiums around opening day to proceed. That is now exceedingly unlikely across Ontario and impossible in Toronto, where restrictions on large gatherings are unlikely to be lifted even if the COVID situation improves.
Toronto mayor and former CFL commissioner John Tory is well aware of the potential consequences of his decision, but felt the need to provide clarity for organizers sooner rather than later.
“This is one of the saddest things I have to be a part of to announce the cancellation of these events that I love and that people across the city love. I mean some of these attract literally millions of people but that’s the point,” he told CP24.
“We hope to be in a much better position as a result of our patience and vaccinations and everything else but we still probably won’t be the point where it is going to be advisable to have crowds of millions of people.”
The Argos were never going to attract millions, but they too will have to look elsewhere, with the CFL hoping more favourable prairie jurisdictions will allow fans for a potentially frontloaded Western schedule.