The Canadian Football League will head into unchartered waters in 2021 – just like every other professional sports league on the planet trying to steer through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie tried to paint an optimistic portrait for the league as it works to regroup for 2021 after pulling the plug on a 2020 season last August during Monday’s Grey Cup Unite State of the League Fan Address.
“We’re pressing forward. We’re engaged. We love our fans and we know our fans love us back in return,” said Ambrosie. “We’re not going to let this 2020 take us down. We did get knocked down.
“The message we want to send today and throughout the week is we got knocked down but like great football players we’re going to get right back up and get back into the huddle and look forward to the next play. That’s really the message: 2020 wasn’t great for us and for the world, but we’re focused on the future in a very positive way.”
Here are five takeaways from commissioner Ambrosie’s address:
- AN OPTIMISTIC TONE
While praising all the front-line workers who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly and acknowledging that 2020 has been awful for so many, Ambrosie mentioned the advancements made toward a new vaccine, referencing specifically the work by Pfizer and Moderna.
“Much of the news has been that we’re seeing a spike (in COVID-19 numbers) and that governments and healthcare officials are asking us to be careful,” he said. “But it’s hard to ignore that there is some good news happening. First, we had Pfizer come out with its’ vaccine and this morning we woke up to the wonderful news that Moderna looks like they’ve got a vaccine.
“So there are lots of reasons to feel optimistic about 2021. Yes, we’ve got to look after ourselves, we’ve got to look after each other, we’ve got to get through this pandemic.
“Our teams want to play. Everyone is excited about a 2021 season. We want to see our great athletes get back on the field. We’re fighting through and looking forward to ’21 when we can resume playing CFL football and being back in our stadiums.”
Ambrosie said the announcement of a second vaccine means it’s the “right time to start zeroing in on a specific scenario to get back playing in 2021.”
- A SCHEDULE DROP… SOON?
This wasn’t just a hint from the commissioner, but a significant tease: a 2021 season could soon be upon us.
“Just this morning I shared with my team that as soon as I see we’ve got a sign-off from all of our stakeholders we’re going to publish a schedule very, very soon,” Ambrosie said. “We’re excited. We’ve got a schedule planned for 2021. I would say in the not-too distant future CFL fans from coast to coast to coast will get a chance to pick their spots, mark their calendars and make sure they’re going to be front and centre for CFL football in 2021.”
- A SAFE RETURN TO FACILITIES
Ambrosie was asked about the league’s plans to hold games with fans in the stadium and possible screening measures to ensure their safety.
“I’m happy to report we’ve been in constant contact with the sporting community, not just in North America but around the world,” said Ambrosie. “We’re talking to each other about what everybody is thinking and how are we going to get fans back safely into our stadiums.
“It applies to every part of the entertainment industry where they’re all looking at getting people back in their facilities so they can entertain them and put on their shows.
“We’re having those discussions and will continue to do that and press hard to make sure that given a clearance from health-care officials to get back to playing and back in our stadiums we want to do it in the safest way possible.
“We are keeping our eye out for all kinds of things that can make it as safe as possible for our fans for when the crisis passes.”
- HAMILTON 2021
The cancellation of the 2020 season meant that this week’s Grey Cup planned for Regina was spiked. Amrbosie said the plan remains in place to hold the 2021 Grey Cup game – and the week leading up to it – in Hamilton.
Regina will then host the 2022 game at Mosaic Stadium.
- ATLANTIC EXPANSION PLANS
Ambrosie said expansion to Halifax very much remains in the league’s plans. The ownership group there is also hoping that once the pandemic is over a new stadium project can be a catalyst as part of an economic reboot.
The ownership group estimates stadium construction would create up to 1,400 jobs, the number of jobs created to service the stadium would be about the same while a new facility could generated $100 million annually in economic activity.
“When they talk like that I realize the dream is so much alive,” Ambrosie said. “We’re looking forward to getting in front of government, from Halifax regional council, the province of Nova Scotia and the federal government and relly talking about this as a real opportunity to stimulate the economy as we get through and past this pandemic.”
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