Sport minister Lisa MacLeod ‘hopeful’ reopening plan can lead to CFL playing in Ontario

Photo courtesy: Ontario parliament

If the downward COVID-19 trend continues in Ontario, sport minister Lisa MacLeod can envision the three CFL teams in her province kicking off in August.

Premier Doug Ford recently released a three-step reopening plan with vaccine thresholds being the key.

“I’m a lot more hopeful today than maybe I was a couple of days ago,” MacLeod said regarding the 2021 CFL season start date.

“Action brings us to a road map — I do see relief in sight, exactly at what time, that’s still going to be determined.”

Based on current health indicators, Ontario expects to enter step one around June 14. For step one to begin, 60 percent of adults must have one dose of the vaccine. Step two requires 70 percent of adults having one dose and 20 percent being fully vaccinated. Ideally for step three, 80 percent of adults have one dose and 25 percent are fully vaccinated.

“Now that we have clear thresholds and criteria with respect to vaccinations, what ICU capacity looks like, what testing looks like, that gives us a better sense. Now that we’ve got clear guidance from the health table on what that would look like, I feel a lot better,” MacLeod said about the prospect of football being played in Ontario.

The province will remain at each step for at least 21 days to evaluate impacts on public health and health system indicators. If all goes according to plan, step two could be reached in early July, with the third and final step potentially coming in August. That could end up timing out perfectly with the three-down league’s targeted date of August 5.

“There’s no update other than to say, yes in step three you’ll start to see sport coming back and what that looks like we’re going to work with health on because we recognize contact in football will be critical,” MacLeod said.

The CFL has delayed the start date of the 2021 season while planning a 14-game schedule culminating in a Grey Cup date currently slated for December 12. For the timeline to be met, the league requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

“August might be still too early for fans in stands, but that’s also something I’ve already engaged in with the chief medical health officer of health on,” MacLeod said.

“I’m absolutely committed to trying to get us to a point where Hamilton is able to host the Grey Cup festival. That’s really important to me, so that work is being done.”

MacLeod met with the chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams on Friday to present a plan for how sporting events could possibly happen. Perhaps a positive omen for the CFL and its bid to return to play this year.

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