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When in doubt, go straight to the horse’s mouth.
If you’ve been keeping up to date with the Canadian Premier League, you’ve likely noticed there are new rumours weekly when it comes to the status of the 2020 soccer season. The league has made it clear a single-site solution will be their best bet at salvaging the season, but the CPL hasn’t released details on how that’s going to look, leaving supporters and players with more questions than answers.
The second-year league took its first step forward on Friday when it announced owners, coaches and players have agreed to "the structure and concept of a proposed strategy on the possibility of a 2020 CPL season."
Last week also saw teams such as Winnipeg’s Valour FC open their doors for physically distanced training sessions with a limited number of players.
It’s progress, but the CPL still has a long list of unprecedented challenges in front of them owing to COVID-19. To get a sense of where the league is at right now, the Free Press spoke with league commissioner David Clanachan on Monday.
In recent weeks, Winnipeg, Victoria and Charlottetown have all been linked to being the host city. Which cities are still in the running today?
There’s still four provinces that are talking to us, but the two that are probably furthest along right now are P.E.I. and British Columbia because of Vancouver Island. The isolation that is caused by being on an island, I think that changes things... There have been some other provinces that have reached out, but nothing to the tone of what we’re dealing with in British Columbia or P.E.I. Now it’s a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The big piece last week was having the owners, the clubs and the players collaborate and say ‘Yes, we want to do this.’
Several players have told the Free Press they’ve been out of the loop in these discussions and that the league hasn’t consulted with them when it comes to coming up with a return-to-play plan.
If it was prior to last week, I would have totally agreed with you. They would’ve said ‘No, we don’t know anything.’ Because again, all you were hearing was rumours. Really, it’s only been the last 10 days to two weeks that I’ve actually started saying ‘We’re interested in this’ because we like what we’re seeing... We weren’t going to panic and work into it but then as you start to hear things like ‘Don’t expect to have supporters in the stands by September’, then you start to say ‘OK we got to turn our heads to something else. Let’s look at some other alternatives.’ We didn’t really have anything we could really talk to them about until really last week.
Let’s be honest, the CPL doesn’t have a mega TV deal like the NFL, NBA or NHL. How can you guys afford to make this work if you’re playing in an empty stadium?
It takes a lot. You got to count on your partners, for sure. You’re gonna make some bets and investments on your own as a league. You’re hoping you can create a made-for-TV event so it’s entertainment to the max. It’s not just about the games, it’s about what else you can do around it... You go out and convince your advertisers, sponsors and partners to participate. We got a great media company in Mediapro. I mean, they broadcast more soccer globally than any other company... There’s a lot of moving parts here. I’m not going to sit here today and tell you ‘It’s a done deal.’ It’s not a done deal. There’s a lot of work to do.
When do you see the season starting and what will the format be?
As I see it today, you’re probably somewhere between July 15-20 that you’d arrive in the market, whatever market that is. From there, you’d be playing games through the end of August and into September. And then it just depends on the whole format. One of the ones we talked to the players about was a round-robin tournament style, kind of like a World Cup, but we’ve got different ideas on that.
How frequently will players and staff be tested?
We work with a medical experts panel who are very, very smart individuals. We’re also working with the provincial health officers. We’ve given them our health and safety protocol, which has been blessed and endorsed by Canada Soccer... I can’t say how often or when we will test. All of that will happen. You just can’t not do it.
What will the day-to-day life look like for staff and players during the season?
We fully know that we’ll be operating within a bubble. We’ll be together, but it depends on the province. If the province is at a point where they’re like ‘You’re doing constant testing, you’re doing all the right things, you’re sequestering in a bubble, staying to yourselves and not out with the general public’, which as an athlete, you shouldn’t be when you’re in season type of thing, right? But we’ll follow the protocol that way. But no, they’re not going to be in lockdown. The players being happy leads to playing better. Better play leads to better competition, and better competition leads to better entertainment. We’re all on the same page when it comes to that.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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