By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Hosting hundreds of players, coaches and staff in Winnipeg for the Canadian Football League season could boost the economy without leading to a spike in COVID-19 numbers, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.
“I’m not asking people to do anything but continue to be vigilant (about COVID-19), and we will continue to be vigilant, too, but we also need to seize opportunities when we have them,” he said.
“And this is a golden opportunity for Manitoba to help get people some jobs back and provide some quality entertainment.”
Backed with an offer of $2.5 million in provincial money to cover transportation costs, field rentals and other expenses, Winnipeg beat Regina and Calgary in a bid to host all nine CFL teams for an abbreviated 2020 season.
Pallister said the province is not considering any other financial aid.
However, the league says it can only go ahead if it can get $42.5 million in federal funding and an agreement with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association on a planned 60-game season that would start in early September.
With many players coming from parts of the United States where there have been large numbers of COVID-19 cases, a health plan is being put in place that would require players to be tested and self-isolate before they left for Winnipeg. More testing would be done after they arrived.
The health plan, which has been developed along with Manitoba’s chief public health officer, would also require players, coaches and staff to essentially live in bubbles and remain separate from the general public.
“The players and everybody inside this event would be limited to hotels and stadium (and) practice facilities that are exclusive to use just for the event and not for the general public,” said Wade Miller, president of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Miller added the plan would be to have games played without fans in the stands, but that could change depending on how the pandemic developed going into autumn.
Manitoba has among the lowest COVID-19 rates in the country, although there have been outbreaks in recent days in Hutterite colonies. There have been 374 confirmed and probable cases since the pandemic started, 49 of which remained active Wednesday. Seven people have died.
Pallister said hosting the CFL would boost the hotel and food industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
“Hotels and so on need that help to get their people back working.”