Sport minister Lisa MacLeod releases return-to-play framework for pro teams in Ontario, including CFL franchises

Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod has laid out the framework for the CFL to return-to-play in her province.

She outlined the minimum requirements that must be met for football to be played in 2021. The CFL will be able to return-to-play under stringent public health and safety protocols developed in consultation with the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.

“We finally have come to a place where we can say now to the Redblacks, the Argos, the Ticats: we’re in a position to get you back on to the field. They’ll be able to operate and practice, and eventually get into games through the cohorting,” MacLeod said.

“They just would have to meet the key features of the framework, which includes local support, the local health units would have to sign off in Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto. I’m confident that they’ll be able to meet these standards because they’ve been part of the process.”

Key elements of the framework include: private COVID-19 screening and testing, assigned cohorts with limited or no interaction between different cohorts; practice, training and competition protocols; accommodation, travel, and transportation services protocols; and individual control measures when not training or competing such as physical distancing and the use of face coverings.

“Essentially adopt many of the practices that the NHL had to in order for their accelerated return-to-play, so we’ve basically created a framework in order for them to do that. They’re confident that they could adhere to that, so we’ll start to see these plans coming in place,” MacLeod said.

In late April, the CFL delayed its start date with a 14-game schedule targeted to kick-off on August 5, culminating in a currently planned December 12 Grey Cup. For the timeline to be met, the league stated it requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

MacLeod has been in conversations with the Chief Medical Officer of Health about capacity limits in stadiums such as TD Place, BMO Field, and Tim Hortons Field. She recognizes the CFL is driven by ticket sales and remains optimistic about fans being in stands come early August. Although, MacLeod did admit it’s premature to put a timeline on it right now.

“We’re at a point where we’re having very good conversations about fans in stands. We are looking at live events, that would come a little bit later in the framework. I’m not in a position, however, to announce what that would look like nor when that might occur. We aren’t Alberta, and we aren’t Quebec, Ontario has its own distinct challenges with COVID-19,” MacLeod said.

“I am very mindful that we want to host the Grey Cup in Ontario, the Ticats and Hamilton are getting ready for that. This provides a lot more certainty and clarity for them. And allows us to have a lot of hope after we moved into step one that there will be a broader return-to-play on the horizon and hopefully that will include spectators at a ticketed event.”

The framework and corresponding regulation amendments will allow the CFL to return-to-play prior to steps two and three of the province’s roadmap to reopen. It’s an acceleration of the path forward for the province and we’ll soon find out if the three-down league is up to the same speed.

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