Craig Reynolds says Riders were not pressured by CFL to implement vaccination policy for fans

Photo courtesy: Joel Gasson

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ president & CEO Craig Reynolds has denied that the team’s new vaccination requirement came as a result of pressure from the CFL.

“There wasn’t pressure. We have lots of conversations with the league and had lots of conversations with the Elks. Ultimately, it’s a team decision and that’s what this came down to and that’s what we decided,” said Reynolds.

“There wasn’t ever a reluctance. The reality is we were having conversations with health experts from day one and we’re largely taking their guidance. When we initially went down this road, Saskatchewan was doing very well as it related to COVID management, as it related to vaccination, and we move forward with that in mind.”

Saskatchewan had a seven-day average of 57 new COVID-19 cases when the Riders held their home-opener on Friday, Aug. 6. The province’s seven-day average ballooned to 254 as of Monday, Aug. 30, an increase of 345.6 percent in a little over three weeks.

“One thing we’ve learned throughout this pandemic is it’s constantly changing and you need to be adaptable. Obviously we’re watching case counts, as everybody is and should be. We’ve said from day one we’re going to consult with the health experts and the medical experts,” said Reynolds.

“We’ve been doing that throughout this pandemic. We ramped those discussions up and at the end of the day their recommendation was that they believed we should implement proof of vaccination at our games and so we agreed with that. We thought that was the right way to go for our fans and our club.”

Reynolds indicated that a number of conversations were held with the club’s stakeholders, including Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL), the province, the city, and the team’s board of directors. They spent the last week completing those discussions prior to announcing the new policy, which kicks in on Sept. 17.

The mandate could not have been implemented ahead the Labour Day Classic on Sept. 5 because the timeline was too constricted. As of now, the province of Saskatchewan does not have a system that allows residents to prove that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Reynolds is aware that the new policy is polarizing for fans, many of whom have already reached out to the club to express their feelings.

“There’s strong opinions on both sides. We’ve heard from many fans today who are very disappointed in this decision. We’ve heard from many fans who are elated by this decision and applaud the club on this decision, so there’s no doubt it’s a polarizing issue. Our fans, much like the rest of society, they’re going to have differing opinions on different topics and this is one of them,” said Reynolds.

“We’re hopeful that for some folks who may have made the decision to stay home that this changes their mind, but we also know that there are some who will no longer come to the games. Only time will tell and we’ll let this play out here as we enter the last four home games.”

Reynolds encouraged fans to continue wearing masks at Roughrider games, which the team has done throughout the season. He acknowledged that mask recommendations have been largely ignored by fans, expressing his wish that more fans would choose to wear them.

“I wear my mask the entire game day and I wish more fans would wear masks to our games. Ultimately, it’s very hard to police,” said Reynolds. “You’re dealing with essentially a city the size of Moose Jaw and you’ve got 1,200 game day staff, so it becomes a bit of a logistical challenge.”

Season ticket holders who are no longer eligible or no longer wish to attend games will be eligible for refunds upon request or can choose to have their money rolled over to 2022. All staff fall under the team’s new vaccination protocols with the exception of players.

Reynolds said he’d like all of Saskatchewan’s players to get vaccinated, though the team cannot mandate that due to the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The team has provided education and encouragement throughout the season for players to get vaccinated.

The Riders (3-0) host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the annual Labour Day Classic on Sunday, Sept. 5 at 6:00 p.m. ET.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.