At age 71, Wally Buono has spent nearly 50 years around the CFL game.
To say he was disappointed the league didn’t play last year would be an understatement.
“Out of sight, out of mind is not a good thing and the CFL was one of the only leagues that didn’t play last year in North America. It’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for the fans. It’s not good for the players. It’s not good for the coaches and it’s not good for the economy,” the winningest coach in league history said on The Rod Pedersen Show.
“Moving forward [with the season] was great and the fact that Canada has done such a great job in the last six weeks to two months as far as the vaccine is concerned, it gives everybody a tremendous hope that the stands will be full.”
On that front, the league received some good news earlier this week, with the province of Manitoba announcing a loosening of restrictions that will allow the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to welcome only fully-vaccinated fans to IG Field for the start of the season.
The move drew praise from many CFL fans, while a vocal minority deemed the move discriminatory to fans who don’t wish to vaccinate. Buono understands that point of view, but doesn’t have much sympathy.
“It is what it is. Some people feel differently than other people and I think you have to be understanding that everybody has their own views and their own opinions, but there are consequences, as we all are going to see,” he said.
In nearly three decades as a head coach, Buono became a master of balancing the different opinions within a locker room with understanding and tact. Just like in football, all are free to make their own choices, but there will always be repercussions for those who don’t have the best interest of the team in their decisions.
“I’ve gotten my two shots and I feel good about it. My wife got it. My whole family is going to get vaccinated because that’s what they want to do because they want to get back to a normal life,” Buono explained.
“There’s conditions to everything and there’s choices. We live in a country where you can make those choices. But if an organization or a company sets a policy, you’ve got to adhere to it, that’s no different than any other thing.”
Currently Winnipeg is the only team with a vaccine policy for attendance, coming to an agreement with provincial health authorities. While all have encouraged immunization within their own buildings, the CFL’s return to play protocol currently doesn’t take vaccinations into effect and teams are not allowed to ask players whether they have been vaccinated until the team physical.
As the situation improves, vaccine quota’s may begin influencing team protocols, but that will require a renegotiation with government. Until then all teams will be on a level playing field and Buono believes that should extend to the stands, where he hopes more teams follow Winnipeg’s lead.
“Kudos to the Bombers for stepping out and being the leader because it then helps all the other eight clubs to try to stay with the same policy so it’s consistent for all the teams,” Buono stressed.