TORONTO — Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer remains encouraged about the CFL’s health-and-safety protocols but can’t say when approval for a shortened season might come.
“We’ve had very good discussions with the Canadian Football League in terms of their proposal,” Dr. Howard Njoo said Friday from Ottawa during a videoconference. “From my perspective, from a public-health perspective, we’re quite encouraged.
“But there are certainly other elements, I’d say what we call the overall Government of Canada decision-making process so I can’t give you a timeline in terms of the whole process.”
Approval from the Public Health Agency of Canada is the biggest consideration in the CFL’s request last week for a $30-million, interest-free loan from Ottawa. The league has maintained it requires government funding to stage an abbreviated season.
The CFL sent Ottawa its $30-million loan request Aug. 3. It was a reduction of the $44-million amended requisition it presented last month.
The CFL first approached the government in April for up to $150 million in assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league had no comment Friday about the expected longer wait for approval.
Njoo said the time required for approval isn’t a sign of trouble or concern with the CFL’s protocols. He added the Public Health Agency of Canada has been in talks with the league and Manitoba health officials regarding the return-to-play safety plans.
If there’s a 2020 CFL season, it will be played in Winnipeg, the league’s tentative hub city.
“We’re going to prepare a package and have it go to our health minister certainly with our recommendations in terms of what we think should be done with the proposal,” Njoo said. “There are other ministers involved, other parts of the government.
“I can’t speak to the machinery of government, I can only speak to what myself and others at the Public Health Agency of Canada have done in terms of what our role has been in this process.”
That certainly paints the picture for more waiting for the CFL. And with time being of the essence, a further delay only diminishes the chances for a season to be played.
Especially considering it seems not all nine CFL teams are crazy about playing an abbreviated season. Arash Madani of Rogers Sportsnet tweeted Friday that the Toronto Argonauts didn’t want to participate in a shortened campaign, and weren’t alone.
Both the Argos and CFL declined to comment about the tweet.
Players would need to fulfil quarantine requirements and make their way to Winnipeg for training camps before a six-game season could begin. And with a three-week playoff, the league is running out of time if it hopes to finish the season by early December.
While Public Health Agency of Canada approval is imperative in the CFL’s quest for government money, it’s not the only hurdle the league faces.
In order to stage a shortened season, it must also reach an agreement with the CFL Players’ Association on an amended collective bargaining agreement, something that hasn’t happened yet.
Njoo spoke positively last week about the CFL’s health-and-safety protocols but added there was still work to be done.
Last month, the Canadian government rejected the Toronto Blue Jays’ plan to play home games at Rogers Centre over fears of spreading the novel coronavirus. The Blue Jays ultimately settled upon playing their home contests in nearby Buffalo, N.Y.
But the NHL has resumed play with Edmonton and Toronto as its hub cities.
The CFL must also finalize a deal with broadcast partner TSN.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has stated the earliest an abbreviated season could begin is early next month. But he’s also said a cancelled campaign remains a possibility.
The $30-million, interest-free loan request is essentially the league’s last-ditch effort to secure government support for an abbreviated ‘20 season.
If CFL games are staged this year, players would be required to isolate for 14 days at home before coming to Winnipeg. Upon their arrival in the Manitoba capital, players would self-isolate for another seven days.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, has said players will be tested for COVID-19 in their own jurisdictions. Then they’ll be tested on their first day, sixth day, and 13th day in Winnipeg.
The general public will not be allowed inside dedicated CFL host hotels or IG Field. Only players, staff, league officials and media can enter the stadium.
Violations will result in strict penalties, including players being sent home for the remainder of the season.
A shortened campaign would see CFL teams play six regular-season games apiece — a third of a traditional campaign. The general sentiment is the league would adopt a one-division setup rather than the traditional East-West format.
Eight of nine teams would make the playoffs. The last two squads would meet in the Grey Cup game, which would be played in Winnipeg.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press