After waiting 285 days since the conclusion of their inaugural season, the Canadian Premier League (CPL) is finally returning to the pitch.
All eight CPL teams are gearing up in Charlottetown, P.E.I. to kick off the league’s second season in a new tournament-style format dubbed the Island Games.
CBC Sports will have exclusive coverage of the tournament on CBC TV, CBC Gem, CBC Sports and the CBC Sports app beginning at 1 p.m. ET each Saturday.
With the coronavirus pandemic suspending sports around the world, having the season come to fruition was crucial for development according to commissioner, David Clanachan.
“You really want to make sure that you don’t go dark,” he said. “The fans and supporters want to see the league in year two because you’ve created some great momentum. You’re also doing it for the players … At the end of the day, players want to play, that’s what their career is. So we do it for them.”
Observing how other international sports reinstated their seasons served as inspiration.
“Because we hadn’t started the season, we weren’t being pressured to finish a season as a lot of other sports and even soccer leagues around the world had to do,” said Clanachan. “So we were able to sit back and watch with interest how others were doing it.”
Ultimately, creating a CPL “bubble” was necessary from an organizational and health and safety standpoint. Langford, B.C., Moncton and Charlottetown were front-runners for hosting the eight teams: Pacific FC (Vancouver Island, B.C), FC Edmonton, Cavalry FC (Calgary), Valour FC (Winnipeg), Forge FC (Hamilton, Ont.), York9 FC (York Region, Ont.), HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax) and the first expansion franchise, Atlético Ottawa.
Clanachan said the latter earned the spot due to low case numbers and a cohesive bid. The city also ranks sixth in Canada for hosting sporting events according to Canada Sports Tourism.
“It came together just at the right time when we needed it to with some great support obviously from the province but also from the mayor of Charlottetown who made it very clear that the CPL was welcome in the market. And of course, it’s one thing to say you want to go there, it’s another thing to be invited.”
WATCH | David Clanachan on holding the tournament in P.E.I.:
“Parts of the country, you could argue, are even safer than others and certainly P.E.I. has done such a great job [handling the pandemic]. It’s one of the safest places in the world.”
All parties involved are prioritizing the health and safety of those attending the tournament as well as residents.
A self-isolation period of 14 days was required before entering the province. All participants are separated from the public at the Delta Hotel and are undergoing consistent COVID-19 testing.
For those inside the bubble such as OneSoccer analyst Oliver Platt, adapting to the new environment has been a smooth process
“It’s pretty good so far. I’ve spoken to quite a few players now and they’re all pretty happy. The hotel is nice, the food’s been pretty good so far… and everyone is keeping to their own sections of the hotel.”
On Aug. 11 the CPL announced zero positive cases after testing 276 individuals. P.E.I. has reported 41 cases with 36 recovered. Weekly testing is set to continue throughout the tournament.
In light of a positive test, Clanachan said “stringent and diligent” protocols would take place together with the provincial health office including contact tracing and more testing. However, he is confident the bubble structure will hold up — prompting little possibility of any cancellations.
“We don’t anticipate to have any [positive cases] because we know that we’ve got it set up. But, having said that, we’ve seen other leagues have some issues where they had sent teams home or things like that,” he said.
“I think the way we designed our protocols would be a very, very minuscule chance that that could happen with a team let alone [cancelling] the whole event”
Assimilating all eight teams in one island bubble has also created a unique and competitive environment. Platt feels this will ultimately make the 2020 season a success.
“It’s going to be interesting. I think a lot of the teams learned a lot of lessons last year,” said Platt.
“There’s a lot of teams that are coming into this situation with rosters that have been turned over quite heavily, a lot of new players and so I think a lot of them are seeing this as a challenge to get those new line ups out there for seven games, maybe 10 games, and see what they’ve got.”
The Island Games kick off Thursday at 8 p.m. EST with the Forge taking on the Cavalry, a rematch of the 2019 final.