Riders hopeful for ‘healing,’ but know some unvaccinated fans won’t return to Mosaic Stadium

After a year in which only vaccinated fans were allowed to cheer on their Saskatchewan Roughriders live at Mosaic Stadium, there are concerns that the lifting of restrictions won’t be enough to get every member of Rider Nation back in the stands.

In a SportsCage radio appearance, Riders’ president and CEO Craig Reynolds acknowledged that some unvaccinated fans have voiced their intention to spend their money elsewhere, still harbouring hard feelings for their exclusion last season.

“We don’t know [how many people won’t come back] there will be some though, absolutely,” Reynolds admitted. “I’d have my head in the sand if I said: ‘Oh no, every single person’s gonna come back and there hasn’t been some frustration over what what’s happened here.'”

After beginning the season without any vaccine-related restrictions for attendance, evolving provincial mandates and pressure from across the CFL forced the Roughriders to implement a vaccine passport system for admission to Mosaic Stadium beginning on September 17. Unvaccinated fans were barred from attending the final three home regular season games, as well as the West Semi-Final.

The move was largely out of the Riders’ control and mirrored regulations put in place around the CFL, allowing teams to keep capacity limits high despite an ever-changing COVID-19 situation. However, restrictions were an especially hot button topic in the largely conservative province of Saskatchewan and some members of the fanbase were wounded by the implementation of the vaccine mandate.

“Over time, I believe they will come back and I think there’s some healing that has to happen as a province, as a country, as a world,” Reynolds explained. “That’s going to take some time, but I feel and I sense there’s some pent up energy to get out and do things as we start to get back into more normal.”

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe lifted all COVID-related restrictions last month, including vaccine passports. According to an Angus Reid poll, 40 percent of Saskatchewan residents felt the move came too soon, while 24 percent felt they were lifted too slowly.

That same poll found that 71 percent of Saskatchewanians had been in a conflict or awkward situation with friends or family members over vaccination status, a situation the Riders have also found themselves in.

“We were playing in the middle of a pandemic and we have to remember that it was a lot of ups and downs, it started off with cases really low and then they spiked,” Reynolds said. “The hope and plan is this year, we don’t have that necessarily. People feel more comfortable. They want to get back out there and we start to see what is more of a normal CFL year.”

Saskatchewan currently has the second lowest percentage of eligible residents with full vaccine coverage of any province at just over 42 percent and has the highest COVID mortality rate since lifting restrictions. There is hope that no restrictions will be needed in 2022, but with COVID-19 nothing is certain.