Redblacks say fan safety top priority as league postpones start of CFL season

TD Place
TD Place could host the Grey Cup this season if the Redblacks advance to the championship game. File photo

The CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks are “closely monitoring” the relaunch of professional sports around the world in an effort to ensure a “safe, healthy stadium environment” at TD Place, the CEO of the team’s ownership group said Wednesday after the league announced it was now aiming to start the season in September.

“The decision respects the recommendations and directives for public safety from all levels of government,” Mark Goudie, the president and chief executive of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, said of the move to push back the start of the season until September at the earliest.

“At this point much still needs to be determined,” he added in a statement to fans. “The CFL and all teams are continuing to work closely with the Players Association and our broadcast partner on a revised schedule that would include as many games as possible.”

With public gatherings across the country banned in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Wednesday the league would not begin the regular season in June as originally planned.

“We know there is a great deal of interest in whether we might play with or without fans, or with social distancing rules in place,” he said in a statement. “We are examining all possibilities with both public safety and financial viability in mind. It’s just too soon to speculate on what a return to play in September might look like.” 

Should there still be a shortened season, the Grey Cup will no longer be played in Regina, this year’s designated host city. Instead, it will be hosted by the qualifying team with the best record in the regular season ​– a fact Goudie emphasized in Wednesday’s statement.

“One piece of exciting news from today’s announcement is that we could possibly be hosting a Grey Cup game at TD Place with your Redblacks this year,” he said, adding the team would unveil its “specific plans” for ensuring fan safety closer to the start of the season.

“This gives all nine CFL teams a shot at hosting the Grey Cup in this unprecedented year,” Ambrosie said, adding the league is also considering moving the Grey Cup into December from its traditional late November timeslot, “as we explore every option that will allow us to play as many games as possible in 2020.”

Still, the commissioner sounded a cautionary tone, noting the league is “not promising” players will be back on the field this fall.

“We are just letting our fans know this remains one of the remaining possible scenarios for 2020,” he said. “A cancelled season is also possible. Again, it’s too soon to make a sure call at this point.”

The league said Regina will now stage the Grey Cup in 2022, while Hamilton will host the CFL’s championship game next year. The league also said the sold-out Touchdown Atlantic contest between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts scheduled for July 25 in Halifax has been cancelled, and fans will receive full refunds.

The CFL recently made headlines when it asked the federal government for up to $150 million in financial assistance to help it weather the COVID-19 crisis.