B.C. premier John Horgan says August 5 start date ‘achievable’ for Lions, ‘pretty confident’ of fans in stands

Photo courtesy: Don Craig /Government of B.C.

Kids are back playing sports in British Columbia and it appears the B.C. Lions won’t be far behind.

B.C. unveiled a four-step restart plan Tuesday afternoon focused on protecting people and safely getting life back to normal on the West Coast. The criteria for moving through the steps are vaccinations rates — 60, 65, and 70 percent of adults 18 or older receiving one dose — along with stable case counts and coronavirus hospitalizations.

Step one immediately allowed outdoor competitive youth sports to begin competition and premier John Horgan joined Donnie & Dhali on Thursday to talk about what that means for other levels of sport, including the CFL.

“I think that getting kids sports started again is the beginning and then we can look to the bigger challenges of the Whitecaps and Rugby Sevens and, of course, the Lions, but so far so good,” Horgan said.

Horgan and Dr. Bonnie Henry have been in communication with the B.C. Lions regarding the potential for the franchise to return to play at BC Place. Team president Rick LeLacheur has stated a 14-game regular season schedule will be announced in the coming days, but the league’s August 5 target kick-off date requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

When asked about timeline on Tuesday, Horgan indicated it might need to be pushed but he appeared much more positive on Thursday.

“We need to have bums in seats for these businesses to thrive and prosper, so that’s a key part of the restart plan and we want to do it in a methodical way. The Lions have been very patient. The CFL is looking at an August 5 start and I think that’s achievable, but it’s going to take a plan,” he acknowledged.

“The public health officials have been ready, willing and able from the beginning to not put up obstacles, but to put up measures to keep people safe and to keep open, whether it’s a business, whether it’s sport.”

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 and but have not yet received official approval in British Columbia, a requirement for PHAC exemptions at the federal level.

It’s expected those approvals will be granted in the coming weeks but restrictions placed on stadium capacity could be far more divisive. The Lions are slated to begin the un-released CFL schedule on the road, but would be comfortable with as few as 4,000 fans upon return.

That decision will be driven by the data, but Horgan is optimistic and plans for similar events are already sliding into place.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have bums in seats. The plan for the Rugby Sevens, for example, has been approved,” the premier noted. “Now we just need to get those vaccination rates up so that we can let more people into the building.”

That event is scheduled for September, after B.C. is slated to lift restrictions under step four of the reopening plan. Larger outdoor crowds could be allowed in between step three and four to allow the Lions to host fans if the numbers allow and B.C. is well on its way to normalcy.

“By the time we get to July 1, we’ll be almost back to normal. We’ll have a crowds at events, or more people rather than crowds, I’d like to say,” Horgan assured viewers.

“Of course, as the summer goes forward, vaccinations continue to go at the rate they are, hospitalizations come down, and all of those metrics that we’ve been looking at and the public have been following for months keep going in the right direction, we’ll be getting back to normal. For me, sport is a key part of that.”