The CFL’s return-to-play protocol has not yet been publicly approved by the necessary provincial governments, but our understanding of what those proposals contain is growing.
Modeled after the protocols implemented by the NHL, the CFL will use rapid antigen testing rather than the more intrusive and expensive PCR testing used by other leagues. Still, the expectations placed on players will be high.
“When you leave the practice facility, you’re expected to go home. When you leave the game stadiums, you’re expected to go home. Inside the facility, there’s going to be masks being worn. There’s going to be distancing,” TSN insider Farhan Lalji reported in a video update for SportsCentre.
“It really is going to be very different and there are some players that are concerned about it, because if you come from a Southern state where there’s been minimal restrictions at the best of times, now you come up here and you’re basically housebound. That’s going to be tough for some.”
Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 CFL season, some had wondered whether the league had the necessary enforcement strength to ensure players adhered to restrictive pandemic policies. That could be an issue again, however fellow TSN insider Dave Naylor noted that despite some player concerns, talks between the league and the CFLPA on the required CBA amendments for 2021 were much more amicable than previous years.
The CFL has delayed the start date of the 2021 season to August 5 while planning a 14-game schedule culminating in a Grey Cup 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.
That may not be achieved in every jurisdiction by the start of the season, with the schedule currently front-loaded in fan-friendly Western provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. While loosened provincial regulations in those areas will be important for attendance, it will not change the protocol required of those teams.
“Even though there may be certain provinces that are wide open and others that are still having restrictions, there’s going to be no variance in the CFL policy depending on where your team is,” Naylor added.
“Part of that has to do with competitive balance. The league doesn’t want to have one team that’s able to gather all their players together in one spot, while another team has to meet in separate rooms, socially distanced and all those kinds of things.”
The other factor is that not all players will be fully vaccinated come kick off. Vaccines are currently not a part of the proposed return-to-play protocols and while teams are encouraging athletes to get their shot, there is no incentive in terms of relaxed regulations for fully vaccinated locker rooms.
The CFL remains hyper-aware of a COVID outbreak that could jeopardize the season and potentially be a death-blow for the league. The current policy will have no exceptions, but that could change once society fully opens up.
“From a league perspective, if they’ve got to get something a little more restrictive to get it to pass then that’s what they’re going to do, but once it does pass and they’re able to move forward, I think those discussions with the provinces will begin almost immediately,” Lalji explained.
“You’re going to see a relaxation throughout society when it comes to people getting both their vaccines, so you’d expect to see the CFL at some point follow suit.”
Both insiders believe that official approval is on the horizon and with it CFL football, but players and teams will have to remain vigilant even as other areas of society relax.