Canadian Premier League may base soccer season at Pacific FC's home in Langford

Few sports teams, if any, have played all their games at home during a season. But that could be the case for Pacific FC.

The Canadian Premier League might roll the soccer ball onto Vancouver Island this year, with all eight teams in tow.

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Holding the entirety of an abbreviated 2020 pandemic season at Westhills Stadium is under consideration.

“I have been in contact with the Canadian Premier League about their plans to host a shortened season in Langford,” said Lisa Beare, provincial minister of tourism, arts and culture.

“We are currently reviewing their proposal,” Beare added, in a statement to the Times Colonist.

Also on the CPL’s table is a proposal by the HFX Wanderers of Halifax to host the pandemic season in Prince Edward Island. The P.E.I. Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture said it is “figuring out the details.”

It appears two islands on opposite coasts are vying to be the pandemic season host. Both have low rates of COVID-19. P.E.I. has 27 confirmed cases with no deaths. Vancouver Island has 127 confirmed cases and five deaths.

Both islands are tourist hubs, but with hotels mostly empty amid this pandemic spring/summer, room capacity for players from eight teams will not be an issue on either island.

The CPL has not commented on either proposal and no timeline was given.

“It would be great to bring Canadian soccer [CPL] to Vancouver Island this summer in a way that is safe for everyone,” said Beare.

The Langford sports precinct features back-to-back fields at Westhills Stadium and Goudy Field that could be used for practices and games. Since fans would not be allowed to attend, as per the current provincial health rules barring gatherings of 50 people or more, any regulation-size field in the region would do.

The Bundesliga in Germany has restarted with no fans. The pro soccer leagues in Poland and Russia, however, will restart in June and allow fans into the stadium who are socially distanced up to 25 and 10 per cent of capacity, respectively.

Any CPL restart venue, however, would need the infrastructure to support television production. Westhills Stadium is capable of that. The P.E.I. stadium’s capability is not known.

The CPL has a TV and streaming deal with Spanish giant MediaPro. CBC carried several CPL games during the league’s inaugural 2019 season. The rest were streamed live on OneSoccer.

PFC officials said on Saturday they could not comment about the Langford proposal, but “are hoping to have an announcement in coming days.”

PFC was set to open April 11 against FC Edmonton at Westhills Stadium before the CPL season was postponed due to the pandemic.

The CPL was formed last year because every World Cup host nation is required by FIFA to have a domestic pro league. Canada will host the 2026 World Cup along with the U.S. and Mexico.

But like every other sports league in the world, it could not have anticipated a 2020 season amid a pandemic. The CPL has asked the federal government for “short-term bridge-financing” of $15 million to get it through the pandemic.

CPL players, who reportedly make $30,000 to $55,000 annually, have taken a 25 per cent deferral in salaries because of the pandemic.

The HFX Wanderers became the first CPL team to receive approval to resume training by its provincial health authorities and will start Monday in Halifax. But PFC is guided by B.C.’s regulations, not those of Nova Scotia.

B.C.’s plans regarding the return of sports activities are “in development,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, during her COVID-19 briefing on Saturday.

“That will be coming in the near future and I do expect absolutely we will be able to have a number of sports and team sports,” said Henry, adding it is being worked on in conjunction with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafeBC.

“I was on a call this week with the World Health Organization about how we do these types of sports in terms of protecting the players and others involved. So there’s the recreational sports and also the pro sports, and a lot of these discussions are going on about how to redo some of the aspects of the game to have more protection for players. It has taken some time and it will take a little bit more before these come out. But they are absolutely being worked on.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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