Approval from Public Health Agency of Canada crucial for CFL quest for fed money

TORONTO — The CFL's quest for federal funding in order to stage an abbreviated season received a huge boost Friday.

The league's health-and-safety protocols remain the biggest requirement in its request earlier this week for a $30-million, interest-free loan from Ottawa. Currently, the Public Health Agency of Canada is evaluating the plans the CFL would implement during a shortened campaign that would played be in Winnipeg, its tentative hub city.

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On Friday, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, was very positive about the CFL's proposed measures.

"What has been submitted to us, I think, is encouraging," Njoo said. "Obviously there's still details to be worked out . . . I think it's something we can work with."

That's important, because acceptance from the Public Health Agency of Canada is a must. Without it, there's no federal money for the CFL, and, essentially, no season.

If games are held, 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.

"In principle, I'd say that so far I think it's the same as we had for the NHL," Njoo said. "My understanding is they've also had discussions, and we also have had discussions, with Manitoba health officials.

"From the Manitoba health perspective I think they're comfortable with what has been put forward so far but there are still some details and some other aspects we need to discuss. Obviously there's still details to be worked out."

The NHL has resumed play with Edmonton and Toronto as their hub cities.

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 Jays ultimately settled upon playing their home contests in nearby Buffalo, N.Y.

The CFL sent the federal government a request earlier this week for a $30-million, interest-free loan. That's a reduction from the $44-million amended requisition it presented last month.

In April, the CFL approached the federal government for up to $150 million in assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But a source with knowledge of the situation told The Canadian Press on Friday if the Public Health Agency of Canada rejects the CFL's protocols, the league can continue to amend them until they meet standards established by the national agency. That, in turn, would keep the CFL in line for financial assistance from the federal government.

The league has maintained it requires government funding in order to stage an abbreviated season.

The CFL source spoke on the condition of anonymity as neither the league nor federal government have divulged details of the loan request.

Earlier this week, the source revealed the CFL's newest plan calls for approximately $28 million of the loan going towards an abbreviated campaign.

CFL governors held a videoconference Thursday and presumably received an update on the situation with Ottawa. But word came down following the meeting that no decisions had been made and the league and government continue to talk.

Surprisingly, though, league sources said the board was set to reconvene Friday _ a rarity that it would meet on consecutive days. But there was no confirmation of the videoconference from the CFL.

One question, though, is how Manitoba can enforce the 14-day self-isolation period, especially since many CFL players live in the U.S. and would be coming from there to participate in a shortened season.

The Manitoba government also established a volunteer committee to oversee CFL hub city plans. It will focus on economic return on investment, creating community engagement, and providing oversight and support for the league.

CFL 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.

This is essentially the league's last-ditch effort to secure financial support from the federal government for an abbreviated '20 season.

Ottawa definitely requires cost certainty from the CFL as well as a specified repayment plan. But, first and foremost, it needs the Public Health Agency of Canada's approval of the league's health-and-safety protocols.

The CFL continues to meet with the CFL Players' Association about amending the current collective bargaining agreement to allow for an abbreviated season. The league also must finalize a deal with broadcast partner TSN.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the CFL's plans are being reviewed by Health Canada, instead of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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