Last week, Manitoba health authorities eased COVID-19 pandemic restrictions when they gave professional sports teams the go-ahead to resume practising and training in their facilities.

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Last week, Manitoba health authorities eased COVID-19 pandemic restrictions when they gave professional sports teams the go-ahead to resume practising and training in their facilities.

On Tuesday, the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers got the second piece of approval they needed when the league issued clearance for franchises to open their doors, albeit in a severely restricted form.

SASHA SEFTER / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The measure will allow only the club's eight locally based players — including linebacker Adam Bighill — to return to IG Field.</p></p>

SASHA SEFTER / FREE PRESS FILES

The measure will allow only the club's eight locally based players — including linebacker Adam Bighill — to return to IG Field.

It will be a part of triggering Phase 2 of the provincial reopening plan. The Blue Bombers haven't played a home game since Oct. 25, a 29-28 win over the Calgary Stampeders in their final regular-season game of 2019.

"The CFL has given authorization as well, effective today, to open back up facilities based on provincial health and municipal authorities," said Blue Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller. "They'll be starting on Thursday."

The measure will allow only the club's eight locally based players — including mainstays such as running back Andrew Harris, linebacker Adam Bighill and slotback Nic Demski — to return to IG Field.

It was an encouraging development for all involved but Miller preferred to use caution when describing the situation.

"This is a testament, actually, to all the citizens of Manitoba who have done exactly what our public health officials have been asking," said Miller. "So it's a positive first step for us getting back to a normal training routine or the new normal and it just goes to how Manitobans took this seriously and flattened this curve."

It was not known when the league's other eight teams would be reopening their training facilities.

"We're going to be discussing that this week," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "We want to be very cautious and part of the process is you have to be certain you can do it right... you have to not only have a good plan but be able to execute against that plan.

"That's one of the things we're talking about."

Valour FC, the Canadian Premier League soccer team owned by the Winnipeg Football Club that also plays its home games at IG Field, also has a major stake in the reopening.

The CPL was scheduled to start its second season April 11 but that date was first pushed back and the season was subsequently suspended. The fledgling league, entering its second season, has been on pause ever since pre-season training was cut off.

No restart date has been announced but Miller said that approval from the league would come this week with training for locally based players coming "next week likely."

The resumption of training for CPL franchises is also likely to be staggered, since the respective provincial health authorities are facing varying conditions on the ground.

"We're all in this as a country, so we need to see how everything goes around the country and I would say we're in a holding pattern for the next four to eight weeks until we see how that goes across the country," added Miller. "And hopefully the rest of the country has the same results as Manitoba and Saskatchewan are putting up on the board right now."

Winnipeg's Grey Cup champions reopened their store at IG Field on May 15. A small staff, including Miller, has been sequestered elsewhere in the building.

"We have a bunch fans in there doing their shopping, still picking up Grey Cup merchandise," said Miller. "We have that separated from the rest of the facility and then there's a small group of us that are working and the majority of our staff are working from home."

 

— with files from The Canadian Press

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.