Despite the heat and the haze from B.C. wildfires, the BC Lions are back at work training in Kamloops for their first on-field game in 21 months.
“We’re just so excited to get back playing,” BC Lions president Rick LeLacheur told BIV. “It’s a great relief, to be honest. It’s been a tough 16 months for everybody.”
Earlier this year, the Canadian Football League announced that professional football would return to Canada for a delayed 2021 season that starts August 5 and culminates in a December Grey Cup.
For Lions players, who are paid to play, the return means they will get paycheques for the first time in over a year. For sports fans, it means a return to in-person games at BC Place with an August 19 home opener – a clear sign that activities and events are returning to a level of play not seen since COVID-19 came to Canada.
Under the province’s restart plan, BC Place can welcome BC Lions fans back at 50% capacity.
“The entire lower bowl usually can see up to about 25,000 or 26,000 people in a BC Lions configuration,” said Jenna Visram, assistant general manager and director of events at BC Place. “We’ll have about 12,500 people, so there will be space for people to distance themselves to not feel so crowded.”
Guests won’t be required to keep two metres apart within the venue, but will notice other health and safety measures.
“What we’ve been working on over the last 16 or so months is ensuring that our guest is really at the top of the line and that we have put in place practices and policies that are going to make our guests feel very comfortable when they come back.”
These include a clear-bag policy so that security staff can see what guests are bringing into the stadium, something Visram said has become common practice in the U.S. The venue has gone cashless and has reworked the entry process so that it’s touchless, with visitors walking through metal detectors.
BC Place was also the first venue of its kind in Canada to obtain the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s GBAC STAR accreditation last year.
“It focuses on ensuring a clean, safe and healthy environment in our venue, and it gives you that third-party validation,” Visram said.
Not required will be temperature checks or COVID-19 tests. Visram added that in the absence of a government vaccine passport, BC Place isn’t looking to screen visitors for vaccinations.
The BC Lions are scheduled to play 14 games this season, seven of which will be at home.
LeLacheur said he expects fans will be enthusiastic about the return to in-person games.
“I think we’re hearing that there’s a lot of pent-up demand for sports, to get back to normal as soon as we can,” he said.
The possibility that another COVID-19 wave could disrupt the scheduled season is always in the back of LeLacheur’s mind, but he is optimistic.
“I think the big difference is that there’s a pretty high percentage that are vaccinated. And I think that helps on any threat of a fourth wave. You always think about it in your mind, but we’re pretty comfortable and confident that we’ll get the 14 games in and the playoffs and the Grey Cup in Hamilton in December.” •