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The home team will be back in town for the first time in 20 months and the Gray Cup Game will be back in town for the first time in a quarter of a century.
Both were confirmed on Monday when the CFL announced that its Board of Governors had unanimously approved a return to the game, in front of the fans, as of August 5th. Both were expected, but both are a reminder of how things can change quickly in turbulent times. Sometimes even for the better.
While the team wouldn’t confirm this, The Spectator has learned that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ first home game on Monday will be the Labor Day Classic against the Toronto Argonauts. September 6th
Team officials are confident fans will be admitted to Tim Hortons Field for Labor Day, but neither team CEO Scott Mitchell said nor league commissioner Randy Ambrosie would guess how many there would be. Ontario is only in Phase 1 of its reopening plan, and the provincial government said Monday it hopes Ontario meets the vaccination and infection rate thresholds required for pro teams to have fans by September 1.
“This is a very positive day for the league and the Tiger-Cats. It took months of hard work and collaboration with many partners, ”Mitchell told The Spectator. “The number of fans depends on a number of things. It all depends on vaccination rates and the health of Ontario citizens, and that has been going well. Look at the improvement over the past three months and Labor Day is almost three months away.
“We are looking for as many fans as possible in the stadium that is acceptable for the city and province.”
Mitchell confirmed that for this year only, the Ticats will be relocating training camp from McMaster University to Tim Hortons Field in order to comply with health and safety protocols and the now fast ramp-up of training camp. Players will be housed in an as-yet-unnamed Hamilton hotel instead of the Mac dorms.
Ambrosie said it will be up to local and provincial authorities whether proof of vaccination is required to participate in CFL games.
The CFL reiterated their commitment to a Gray Cup appointment on December 12th at Tim Hortons Field, three weeks later than originally planned. This includes five days of the Gray Cup Festival, which takes place mainly in the city center.
Original estimates were based on 32,000 visitors to the game itself and Ticat President Matt Afinec is optimistic that fans will want to take part in large numbers by then.
“First and foremost, it’s an incredibly exciting day for the fans that the team is coming back. We have to start the season before we can have a Gray Cup, ”said Afinec. “It creates the conditions for Hamilton to host the first real major sporting event in this country in 20 months and that puts this city in the spotlight. We are very confident that there will be an incredible atmosphere.
“What we hear and see from our fans is that everyone is excited to get back on the field and get back together socially and safely. And we all know that there is a cohort of fans who will hesitate a little. But given some of the things we’ve been through, it’s safe to say that today’s announcement two months ago would not have been remotely possible, and we have six months until the Gray Cup. “
Mitchell said that because the province is still in phase 1, the training camp will be closed to the public. He also said the team would be returning to the McMaster campus for training next year and praised the university as a host and partner.
“That was a unique story this year,” he said. “Safety is the most important thing. We have some logs to put in and for now, Tim Hortons Field is the best and safest way to do it. “
August of the Ticats is expected to feature two street games in the west, one in Montreal and a bye week.
The Tiger Cat players contacted by The Spectator were happy to finally have a fixed target date with which they can prepare mentally and physically for the training camp. There will be no full contact during the training camp and the preparatory games.
“After last year we had to be in a position where we really wanted to play football now, yes, that’s quite remarkable,” said Chris Van Zeyl, Ticats representative for the CFL Players Association. “I am incredibly impressed with our association’s negotiating committee to revise the CBA for this one year, and also kudos to the league. There are a lot of challenges and it won’t be easy.
“But it’s great to be here again.”
CORRECTION: The article was updated on June 14th to correct the Labor Day date. Labor Day is September 6th.