The CFL has cleared two more hurdles in its quest to return to the field in 2021.
An official with the Public Health Agency of Canada told The Canadian Press the federal government has received the CFL's request for a national interest exemption for modified quarantine for the upcoming season. The official added Ottawa is reviewing it in consultation with provincial health authorities.
The inclusion of negotiations with Ottawa, in addition to previous talks with provincial health authorities, is a big step in the right direction for the league as it attempts to return to the field for the first time since 2019.
Essentially, the CFL is asking Ottawa to provide it with the same exemptions it has for the NHL. The federal government waived its mandatory 14-day quarantine period for players acquired by Canadian NHL teams from American clubs "under national interest grounds" ahead of the league’s April 12 trade deadline.
Under those terms, CFL players would observe a seven-day quarantine upon arrival into Canada and be subject to daily testing for COVID-19. Players would be eligible to suit up for their teams while continuing to undergo daily testing the following week.
Another positive step would be the ratification of an amended collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and CFL Players' Association. The union announced Thursday it had ratified an amended deal while the league's board of governors will vote on it Monday.
"We've done everything we can as a union and as players to lay the groundwork needed for us to play a safe 2021 season and now the CFL board of governors has an opportunity to do their part," union president Solomon Elimimian said in a statement.
"We eagerly anticipate the CFL now making the right decision to get the season going while maintaining the highest player safety standards," added executive director Brian Ramsay. ""The pandemic hasn't been easy for anyone in the CFL — and I can tell you that it has been especially hard on the players and their families.
"This MOA (memorandum of agreement) represents another big step toward getting us all back to work so that we can safely get back on the field this season."
The CFL didn't stage a 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league shelved plans for an abbreviated campaign last August after failing to secure a $30-million, interest-free loan from the Canadian government.
Last November, the CFL unveiled plans for a full 18-game 2021 regular season. But in April, commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced the league was delaying the start of the '21 season to Aug. 5 and reducing the number of games played to 14 per team.
The next big step for an Aug. 5 return is Monday's board of governors meeting.
The board doesn't require unanimous support to accept the Aug. 5 start but seven of nine teams would have to vote in favour as the CFL constitution requires over two-thirds majority. However, it's unknown if the constitution could force teams to play and incur significant financial losses simply because a majority wants to go ahead with a season.
The fear is that could force a situation where a team voting against the Aug. 5 startup date would simply refuse to play if the remainder of the board votes in favour of beginning a season in early August. That scenario could result in very serious implications regarding league transfer money as well as the CFL's broadcast agreement and league's '21 schedule.
Not playing in 2020 came at a significant cost to the CFL. A source has said the league lost between $60-and-$80 million last year by not staging games.
The source has been granted anonymity because the CFL has never revealed its 2020 financial figures.
Another factor, too, is the possibility of fans. The CFL wants to have a "significant" amount of fans in the stands. However, the Ontario government hasn't signed off on that, and three of the league's franchises are based in the province (Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa).
But an Aug. 5 kickoff would see all four East Division teams opening the season with a series of road games in Western Canada. The hope would be that once they were slated to return home that some fans would be allowed in the Ontario stadiums.
A TSN report earlier this week said a committee representing seven of Ontario's seven pro franchises (Argos, Ticats, Redblacks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Toronto Blue Jays) submitted a report to the Ontario government. The report said the committee was looking for 35 per cent of stadium capacity for the province's second stage re-opening and up to full capacity for the third stage.
"We will continue to work with our stakeholders as well as our public health experts at the provincial and local levels to determine when and if it is safe for measures to be lifted, including when other professional sports leagues may return to play," Ontario's Heritage, Sport and Tourism ministry said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
The first stage in Ontario's re-opening is scheduled to start Friday. The province will remain at each step for at least 21 days to evaluate any impacts on key public health and health system indicators.
The earliest date for the second stage would be July 2, with July 23 the earliest for stage 3.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.