Canadian Premier League keen to return



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Canadian Premier League Image: Canadian Premier League

The Canadian Premier League has hinted that it wants to save its 2020 season. On March 20 this year, the league announced that it would be postponing the start of the season from the previously scheduled date of April 11 due to the health crisis which has emerged globally due to COVID-19 outbreak. However, it is still not clear where a quarantined tournament would be staged.

The Canadian Premier League is a professional soccer league in Canada founded in May 2017. At the top of the Canadian soccer league system, it is the country’s primary national soccer league competition. The league consists of eight teams, from five of Canada’s 10 provinces.

The start-up league was due to start its second season in April (the first season started in 2019) but it remains on an indefinite suspension because of coronavirus which is hanging like the Damocles Sword on humanity.

The league is looking at starting mid- or late July with play going into September. Canadian Premier League Commissioner David Clanachan says it will be up to the local health authorities if teams would have to self-quarantine upon arrival.

The league has some experience in transporting its teams en masse, having taken them to the Dominican Republic for pre-season training prior to the 2019 inaugural campaign.

The Canadian Premier League said in a statement that its “owners, clubs and player leadership unanimously agreed on the structure and concept of a proposed strategy on the possibility of a 2020 CPL season.”

The statement added, “The next step will be to engage with the fans and partners as the Canadian Premier League with its clubs work collectively to find a solution for a 2020 Canadian Premier League season.”

Though much detail is not known, but it is believed that the Canadian Premier League wants to be back to the pitch sometime between July and September.

Like many other team-sports organizations in North America, the league is looking to stage a shortened campaign in a neutral single-site location.

The two leading contenders are Vancouver Island, British Colombia, in the west coast of Canada and Prince Edward Island on the east coast.

The city of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island has officially submitted a proposal to the league – “Charlottetown is open for business,” Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown said in a statement.

“I’m excited to be able to extend an invitation to the Canadian Premier League and its eight member teams to play their modified single-city season in the Birthplace of Confederation – it doesn’t get any more Canadian than right here in Charlottetown,” Brown added.

The city of Langford, British Columbia, which is located on Vancouver Island, has also evinced keen interest in hosting Canadian Premier League.

Langford is the home of Canadian Premier League team Pacific FC, whereas Prince Edward Island does not have a team affiliated with the league.

A decision will boil down to which province and city is given the green light to stage the event, in addition to the quality and cost of the facilities on offer both on and off the field.

Clanachan told mediapersons, “The health and safety of our players and staff and the local community will always drive our decision. We are waiting for an invite, ready and looking for a home for 2020. We’ve already had a tremendous response from multiple locations and provinces, each bring their own strengths and advantages. We’re looking forward to making a decision soon that is the best solution for our players.”

“We feel very confident that our health and safety protocols are very stringent. And I can say our players are pleased with what they’ve seen. It has answered all their questions and more,” Clanachan further stated.

Pacific FC President, Josh Simpson, acknowledged that a “compelling” offer has been made by Prince Edward Island but is quietly hopeful that Vancouver Island will be chosen as the location.

He told mediapersons, “[British Columbia (in Canada) Premier] John Horgan has been very supportive of bringing the National Hockey League to [British Columbia this summer] and with that in mind I don’t see why we won’t be able to get it over the line with the Canadian Premier League. An island on the east coast and an island on the west coast is what it comes down to.”

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Canadian Premier League players have had 25 percent of their contracts deferred, while coaches, technical staff, and club and league employees have taken wage reductions. The Canadian Premier League has also sought C$15m in “short-term financing” from the Canadian Federal Government.

Simpson added, “The financial impact has been huge. It’s difficult to get a sports league off the ground as it is and to be interrupted by a world pandemic…to be able to carry the clubs and the league, it’s an expensive operation. So [there are] huge financial implications obviously that our ownership is enduring and working through with our players and staff on. As far as the [2020 season] event, there will be certain costs with that as well.”

The prospect of the Canadian Premier League going under “has absolutely not been a topic of conversation”, Simpson further stated.

He further said, “We’re a young league and we’re nimble enough to make informed decisions quickly. Generally, it’s a very positive group of forward-thinkers that make up our ownership and Board of Governors and are very dedicated to putting football on the map in Canada.”

However, the Canadian Football League players are not as optimistic as Simpson and have admitted that their long-term future is “very much in jeopardy”.

The Canadian Soccer Association has said that the sport can resume in Prince Edward Island and British Columbia on the condition that clubs compete the final phase of its ‘Return to Soccer Guidelines’ which includes completing a ‘self-assessment tool’.

The only thing required now is to zero down on a venue, with Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island the two leading candidates. The local health authorities giving the nod are mandatory.

The Prince Edward Island Government confirmed last month it had been approached by HFX Wanderers FC about having the Canadian Premier League resume its season in the province.

Lisa Beare, British Columbia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, said she has been in touch with the Canadian Premier League about hosting a shortened season in Langford.

“We are currently reviewing their proposal. It would be great to see Canadian soccer being played on Vancouver Island this summer in a way that is safe for everyone,” Beare added.

Like Major League Soccer (MLS), the Canadian Premier League is looking at staging a round-robin tournament in one location. The hope is both leagues may be able to resume play in their own host cities at a later date.

“The problem with the world we live in today is everything is changing so quickly every day. That could be very good news for us a few months from now or it could be bad news,” Clanachan remarked.

“I’m holding out hope that that [playing in home cities] could be the case. I think everybody is kind of hoping for that,” he opined.

Canada Soccer says another two to four provinces could follow Prince Edward Island and British Columbia in returning to play.

“Starting with the suspension of sanctioned soccer in March, countless hours of thoughtful and measured discussion and planning have gotten us to a place where we are confident we can once again provide a safe sport environment in areas of the country where the provincial and local Governments have permitted a return to physical activities,” Canada Soccer General Secretary Peter Montopoli said in a statement.

Different regions may go for different rules in resuming the sport. Ontario, for example, could choose to return to play depending on region.

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