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Njoo positive about talks with CFL but cannot provide timeline for decision

New CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg Thursday, May 24, 2018.
New CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg Thursday, May 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer remains encouraged about the CFL’s health-and-safety protocols but can’t say when approval for a shortened season might come.

“We’ve had very good discussions with the Canadian Football League in terms of their proposal,” Dr. Howard Njoo said Friday from Ottawa during a videoconference. “From my perspective, from a public-health perspective, we’re quite encouraged.

“But there are certainly other elements, I’d say what we call the overall Government of Canada decision-making process so I can’t give you a timeline in terms of the whole process.”

Read more: Approval from Health Canada crucial for CFL in quest for federal money

Approval from the Public Health Agency of Canada is the biggest consideration in the CFL’s request last week for a $30-million, interest-free loan from Ottawa. The league has maintained it requires government funding to stage an abbreviated season.

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The CFL sent Ottawa its $30-million loan request Aug. 3. It was a reduction of the $44-million amended requisition it presented last month.

Coronavirus: Dr. Tam says CFL’s Winnipeg hub would work much like NHL’s
Coronavirus: Dr. Tam says CFL’s Winnipeg hub would work much like NHL’s

The CFL first approached the government in April for up to $150 million in assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Njoo said the time required for approval isn’t a sign of trouble or concern with the CFL’s protocols. He added the Public Health Agency of Canada has been in talks with the league and Manitoba health officials regarding the return-to-play safety plans.

Read more: CFL would use federal government loan to cover hub, player costs: source

If there’s a 2020 CFL season, it will be played in Winnipeg, the league’s tentative hub city.

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“We’re going to prepare a package and have it go to our health minister certainly with our recommendations in terms of what we think should be done with the proposal,” Njoo said. “There are other ministers involved, other parts of the government.

“I can’t speak to the machinery of government, I can only speak to what myself and others at the Public Health Agency of Canada have done in terms of what our role has been in this process.”

Potential return of sports and business opportunities
Potential return of sports and business opportunities

That certainly paints the picture for more waiting for the CFL. And with time being of the essence, a further delay only diminishes the chances for a season to be played.

Especially considering it seems not all nine CFL teams are crazy about playing an abbreviated season. Arash Madani of Rogers Sportsnet tweeted Friday that the Toronto Argonauts didn’t want to participate in a shortened campaign, and weren’t alone.

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Read more: Infectious disease expert likes hub plans, but says CFL and other leagues still face issues

Both the Argos and CFL declined to comment about the tweet.

Players would need to fulfill quarantine requirements and make their way to Winnipeg for training camps before a six-game season could begin. And with a three-week playoff, the league is running out of time if it hopes to finish the season by early December.

CFL Players’ Association agreement needed

While Public Health Agency of Canada approval is imperative in the CFL’s quest for government money, it’s not the only hurdle the league faces.

In order to stage a shortened season, it must also reach an agreement with the CFL Players’ Association on an amended collective bargaining agreement, something that hasn’t happened yet.

Read more: CFL names Winnipeg tentative hub city for possible shortened season amid coronavirus

Njoo spoke positively last week about the CFL’s health-and-safety protocols but added there was still work to be done.

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

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What’s the plan for the CFL?
What’s the plan for the CFL?

But the NHL has resumed play with Edmonton and Toronto as its hub cities.

The CFL must also finalize a deal with broadcast partner TSN.

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.

Read more: Manitoba’s chief public health officer sees merit of Winnipeg CFL hub idea

The $30-million, interest-free loan request is essentially the league’s last-ditch effort to secure government support for an abbreviated ’20 season.

If CFL games are staged this year, 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.

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Manitoba’s CFL hub city pitch
Manitoba’s CFL hub city pitch

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.

Read more: CFL no longer talking to Business Development Bank of Canada, sources say

Violations will result in strict penalties, including players being sent home for the remainder of the season.

A shortened campaign would see CFL teams play six regular-season games apiece —  a third of a traditional campaign. The general sentiment is the league would adopt a one-division setup rather than the traditional East-West format.

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Eight of nine teams would make the playoffs. The last two squads would meet in the Grey Cup game, which would be played in Winnipeg.

CJFL cancels 2020 season due to COVID-19 pandemic
CJFL cancels 2020 season due to COVID-19 pandemic