The Canadian Premier League is back for its third season, with the new campaign set to start on June 26, 2021.
Unfortunately, for the second successive year, the staging of the competition has been adversely affected by the pandemic.
Last year, the health crisis forced organizers to reschedule the event and create an Island Games tournament centred around Prince Edward Island in the east of the country. That though proved to be a big success with both players and fans alike, because all the games were played in a short time frame and the spirit of competition was allowed to build.
This time, things will be slightly different, with all games initially held in Winnipeg. However, the intention is, the health situation and government officials allowing, that the second part of this year’s CPL can see games return to their eight respective markets.
As things stand, there will be 32 games played in Winnipeg over a 29-day period, with each team playing eight times. Then, if all goes well, the remaining 28 games of the regular season will revert to the normal format of the competition, including the playoffs.
Initially, the games in Winnipeg will be played behind closed doors, but that could change depending on local infection rates in Manitoba and sign-off from the local authorities. The current aim is to have fans back in home stadiums in late July or early August.
To enable the league to get underway a strict set of anti-Covid protocols have been agreed upon. Teams will be tested before they travel, during the first seven days on arrival in Winnipeg, and, thereafter, on a weekly basis.
Players will only be allowed to mix with their own teammates, except during matches against other sides. The number of support personnel will be kept to a minimum, and there will be a proactive track and trace system in place to ensure that the event can be held safely.
Flexibility though is the watchword – the league knows that all their plans could yet be affected by changes in infection rates and that the scheduling and location of games may change. However, they also recognize that, if they had waited for everything to be perfect, then not a ball would have been kicked this season.
A number of venues were interested in holding this first stage of the 2021 CPL, with several of them in the United States. However, Winnipeg won out, due to the support of the provincial government and the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, which has received CAD $50 million in funding to support projects designed to boost the provincial economy after the ravages of the past year or so.
In addition, Winnipeg is already home to one of the CPL teams, our very own Valour FC. IG Field, where the games will take place, is considered one of the most advanced facilities in the league.
The opening fixtures of the new season are a doubleheader between FC Edmonton and Atletico Ottawa, followed by Pacific FC against HFX Wanderers FC. The next day, reigning champions Forge FC will face the “home” side Valours FC, whilst Cavalry FC will take on York United FC.