Western Hockey League adopts mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy

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The Western Hockey League announced Monday it will be mandatory for all roster players, hockey operations staff, officials and other team and WHL office personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The league said players and staff must be fully vaccinated with a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to the start of the 2021-22 WHL regular season, which is Oct. 1.

General managers, head scouts or directors of player personnel, trainers, equipment managers, on-ice and off-ice consultants, on-ice officials and ice-level off-ice officials — and anyone else who interacts directly and on a regular basis with players — also fall under the mandatory vaccination policy.

“The health and safety of our players and staff continues to be the number one priority for the WHL,” league commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement.

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“The policy is designed to further protect our players and staff in the WHL from the potential risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

The WHL includes Alberta teams the Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels.

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It also includes teams in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Oregon and Washington in the U.S.

The WHL has 22 hockey clubs, 17 located in Western Canada and five in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It funnels players into the National Hockey League.

“With travel restrictions currently in place with the Canada/U.S. border, as well as the province of Manitoba, it is important all players and staff are fully vaccinated in order to be eligible to play a full season in the WHL,” Robison said.

The WHL said the mandatory vaccine policy does not apply to fans and venue staff.

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Last week, the Winnipeg Jets announced all fans must be fully vaccinated to attend home games at Canada Life Centre.

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The Edmonton Oilers have not yet made a decision about fans in Rogers Place and COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are exploring and planning for multiple scenarios for the 2021-22 NHL season based on Alberta Health guidelines and venue best practices from the sports and entertainment industry,” Tim Shipton, senior vice president of the Oilers Entertainment Group, said in an email to Global News.

“We have a proven track record of operational excellence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through our experience as host of the NHL Hub, 2021 World Junior Championship and 2020-21 NHL season. We will use this experience and expertise to build an operational plan that keeps our employees and guest safe, while offering the best fan experience.

“We are in ongoing conversations with Alberta Health, Canadian venues, the NHL and other key stakeholders. Once finalized, we will communicate our plan at an appropriate time in advance on the 2021-22 NHL season.”

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