Dr. Bonnie Henry says fans could return to B.C. Place ‘later in the summer,’ UK-style monitored events being considered

Photo courtesy: Government of British Columbia

The CFL was dealt a serious blow to its return-to-play plan on Thursday when Ontario minister of sport Lisa MacLeod deemed fans in the stands ‘ambitious’ for the CFL’s targeted August 5 start date, but on the other side of the country there may be a different outlook.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry sat down for an extensive interview with Richard Zussman of Global BC set to air later on Friday and while she wavered on a definitive timeline, Henry has a projection for when spectators could return to B.C. Place.

“I think later in the summer, into the fall we will be looking at spectators for sure,” she said with some degree of confidence.

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. B.C. Lions president Rick Lelacheur pegged that number as low as 4,000 to 5,000 in attendance for his club to be comfortable, but even those modest numbers are far from guaranteed.

According to statements obtained by 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk, the province has not yet approved the CFL’s return to play proposal. That remains a priority before fan attendance can even be considered and the cancellation of large outdoor gatherings like the Pacific National Exhibition and Honda Celebration of Light fireworks have dampened optimism.

On May 3, Henry stated that big events of any sort were ‘not likely’ until winter of next year, but her tone has softened when it comes to spectator sports. All options are on the table, including some innovative ones from overseas.

“I’m watching the U.K. where they have done experiments, doing planned events where people are monitored before and after to see if transmission happens,” Henry explained. “We’re looking at things like that too.”

Beginning in late April, the government of the United Kingdom has begun to experiment with mass gatherings in a variety of settings, including large sporting events like the FA Cup Final. Attendees must have a negative COVID-19 test before hand, but masks and social distancing are not required during the event. Attendees are then monitored and tested after the event to determine the safety of other such large gatherings.

That data will be invaluable to governments across the globe and a similar concept could be employed in B.C., with a CFL game in early August a prime venue for such an experiment.

B.C. will not be easing restrictions until after the May long weekend, but Henry notes a slow return to normalcy is on the horizon as vaccination rates rise and cases drop.

Outdoor youth sports could resume inter-team competition as early as June and the Lions will hope professionals are afforded the same courtesy. While the outlook is positive, Henry remains cautious and urges people to not get ahead of themselves.

“We are not going to be flipping the switch. We are very slowly going to get back to a new normal. A new place, a new restart, you can expect after the long weekend we will slowly be getting back to some of those things in our lives,” she emphasized.

If we play our cards right, that could include an on-time arrival for the CFL.