The Canadian Football League may have officially approved a 14-game 2021 season kicking off on August 5, but there is still one more set of hurdles to overcome.
According to a report from Dan Ralph of the Canadian Press, the Public Health Agency of Canada is still reviewing the league’s return to play proposal and top officials would not provide a timeline for approval
“Obviously time is of the essence. They have their proposed timeline in terms of training camps and the start of the season,” Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public-health officer, said during a conference call on Thursday
“Certainly there are program staff within the agency [who] are looking very carefully from a public-health perspective what the protocols are like. They are looking good, [but] I can’t give you a definitive answer in terms of when they would be completing the review. Obviously, there are other departments as well that are probably involved in making a final decision. I would say at the present time things are trending in the right direction in terms of our review.”
The CFL is scheduled to begin training camps across the country on July 10, with players expected to arrive a week prior for a seven-day quarantine. That plan hinges on PHAC’s approval of a national interest exemption for cross-border travel similar to the one afforded the NHL, shortening the standard quarantine period of 14 days by half.
“I think in terms of the NIE, certainly with respect to players crossing the border and so on, I think the CFL has presented their protocols to us. I would say the CFL has also given us good protocols in terms of testing,” Njoo continued.
A key piece of that testing protocol came into being on Thursday thanks to the federal government, with the league announcing that the government was providing them with 60,000 rapid COVID-19 tests to be included in the testing regime of some provinces and for support staff across the country.
That is just one component of the necessary protocols, but Njoo believes the CFL is in good shape for approval and fans in the stands due to the league’s outdoor nature.
“The other point I think that’s very important as well that we’ll be following is the fact that CFL games are basically played in outdoor stadiums so that’s already a good starting point with respect to the summer. Everyone is at least being outdoors,” he added.
“With respect to things such as spectators and capacity and so on, those are things that are going to be examined closely, not just by ourselves but obviously by the provincial authorities as well.”
After the Canadian government refused to provide a $30 million interest-free loan a year ago, the board of governors voted to cancel the 2020 season. The CFL reportedly lost between $60 and $80 million in 2020 and are set to lose millions more regardless of how successful the 2021 campaign turns out.
A year later, Njoo has grown used to queries about how the government will support the league and despite a feeling of deja vu, believes more positive answers are on the horizon.
“I kind of remember getting this question last year. I think we’re in sort of a different situation this year compared to last year and much, I think, more encouraging,” he said.
“As we’ve said repeatedly, the more Canadians that are vaccinated … then I think we can see more and more a return to, I wouldn’t say a completely normal life as before, but certainly a much better summer and a CFL season that we didn’t have at all last year.”