Another hit to sports teams as Dr. Henry says limited crowds through next winter

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday “we’re in a whole different world now,” thanks to the vaccines rollout. But that won’t necessarily usher in a return to normalcy for sports, concerts and cultural events this summer, fall or early next winter.

Sports will be played this summer and fall in B.C. but likely without anything nearing full attendance permitted. Henry, in her media briefing Monday, said perhaps hundreds of people could be allowed for concerts, cultural and sports events but not thousands.

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“There will not be any big events of any sort, even outdoors, through this summer or into the fall and winter of next year,” said Henry.

“There will not be big events where there’s lots of crowds of people this summer.”

That means limited or no attendance will be allowed for Pacific FC of the pro soccer Canadian Premier League, Victoria Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen of the Western Lacrosse Association, Westshore Rebels and Vancouver Island Raiders of the B.C. Football Conference and for at least the start of the 2021-22 Victoria Royals’ Western Hockey League and B.C. Hockey League Island Division seasons. Also affected will be the B.C. Lions of the CFL, Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS and Vancouver Canucks of the NHL.

With the Tokyo Summer Games a go, the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament June 29 to July 4 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre will take place but likely with limited or no spectator attendance. Layritz Park was to be ringed by bleachers seating up to 3,000 for the Canadian Little League baseball championship Aug. 5-14 but that bleacher order can be cancelled.

“It’s tough, obviously, to run a national tournament and recoup costs under these circumstances,” said Dave Potter, head coach of the host Layritz team.

The event received a double whammy with the Henry pronouncement following the Little League World Series announcing only U.S. teams will be playing in the iconic tournament this summer in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“It’s a worst-case scenario two years in a row as we’ve gone from disappointment to disappointment,” said Potter, of the Canadian tournament, which had been rescheduled from last year.

“Even though there are so many factors going against it, we are still hopeful we can put on a nationals. It would be meaningful to still crown a Canadian champion even if the winner won’t advance to Williamsport.”

The Victoria HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwls of the West Coast League of baseball announced last month they will not be playing this summer.

Many of these leagues are gate driven. Even at the higher levels, Victoria interests paid $3 million to host the Olympic basketball qualifier. Without ticket sales, that would have to be made up in other ways. The tournament will be broadcast nationally. The CPL and PFC also have a broadcast deal through Spanish giant MediaPro. That’s not a cushion a circuit such as the WLA can even remotely consider as it looks to a season start in late June.

“No fans would be devastating news and I don’t see how the Shamrocks can play with zero attendance,” said Chris Welch, GM of the WLA club.

“With partial attendance, we would not necessarily have to close the door on a season. We will have to see what the WLA board of governors could do with that.”

WLA commissioner Paul Dal Monte on Monday told the Times Colonist: “We are proceeding as if we will play. They are talking of a massive increase in vaccinations this month. Everything is fluid and we will adjust in coming weeks to that fluidity.”

The CPL, which pulled off a bubble 2020 soccer season in Prince Edward Island, said it will announce its 2021 season format on May 15.

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