CFLPA initiates investigation into Elks-Stamps game amid air quality concerns

Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, left, looks on as Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier throws the ball during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. The CFL Players' Association says Occupational Health and Safety in Alberta is investigating the CFL's decision to play the Edmonton Elks-Calgary Stampeders game Monday despite smoky conditions in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The CFL Players’ Association says Occupational Health and Safety in Alberta is investigating the CFL’s decision to play the Edmonton Elks-Calgary Stampeders game Monday despite smoky conditions in Calgary.

The Stampeders rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat the Elks 35-31 at McMahon Stadium. The contest was played despite Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health index for Calgary measuring between eight and 10 throughout the day.

The CFL and CFLPA have a policy that’s been in place since 2019 that states on-field activities are to either be cancelled or ceased when the air-quality rating exceeds seven.

The CFLPA feels Monday’s game shouldn’t have been played due to a poor air-quality reading. The union says it twice informed the CFL in writing — before the opening kickoff and afterwards — that the contest shouldn’t go ahead because of unsafe work conditions.

In its submission to the CFL after the opening kickoff, the CFLPA stated air-quality levels in Calgary were hazardous and posed a threat to the health and safety of players on the field. It asked the league to delay the game until such time as those levels dropped to seven or below.

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The union also added if the game went ahead, it would bring the matter to the attention of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety. The CFLPA says a complaint was filed and the OHS is now investigating the matter.

A game can start with an air-quality of seven so long as conditions aren’t projected to worsen. But Environment Canada’s AQHI for northwest Calgary was still at nine four hours after kickoff.

Forest fire smoke drifted into Calgary overnight Saturday. Environment Canada’s air quality index at kickoff Monday read nine out of 10, or “high risk.”

On Sunday, the CFL and union both monitored air-quality readings in Regina but the Saskatchewan Roughriders-Winnipeg Blue Bombers game went ahead as scheduled because conditions there improved.

“The bigger problem we have right now is the league is trying to change the policy,” said Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA’s executive director. “They’ve informed us they won’t be shutting games down until (an air-quality reading of) nine and that’s unacceptable.

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Poor air quality this year has resulted in a number of CFL teams moving their practices to indoor facilities. And in May, the Roughriders Green and White scrimmage was cancelled after two drives due to the poor air quality cause by smoke from wildfires.

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“Before the Labour Day Classic in Calgary, beginning at noon, air quality readings were taken inside McMahon Stadium every 30 minutes until the conclusion of the game,” said a CFL spokesman. “Each of those readings was shared with the league office, the CFLPA and the two competing teams.

“This procedure is consistent with protocol for games where there has been a potential threat to air quality, as has been the case for a number of games this season. All readings taken during warm-ups and throughout the game were considered ‘moderate.’ As is the case with all matters, the CFL is happy to discuss all procedures and practices with our partners at the CFLPA.”

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The union and league are scheduled to meet Thursday in Vancouver. The meeting was scheduled before Monday’s game but the issue of air quality has been moved to the top of the agenda.

“None of our guys want to shut things down, our guys want to play football,” said Ramsay. “The CFL wants to put our members in harm’s way, risking long-term consequences.

“This is coming from the same group that vehemently opposes workers’ compensation or any type of long-term rehabilitation for long-term injuries.”

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