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Could soccer be the temporary lifeline that keeps P.E.I.'s beleaguered hotel and motel operators afloat during the summer of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
On Wednesday, Islanders learned the Canadian Premier League has approached the provincial government about the possibility of playing the entirety of its 2020 soccer season here in Canada's smallest and most COVID-free province.
Earlier this year, sports leagues around the world abruptly cancelled or temporarily suspended play as the dreaded virus spread around the globe.
The affected leagues included some of the largest, including the highest levels of professional sports, such as the National Hockey League, National Basketball League, Major League Baseball, National Football League and Major League Soccer.
Here in Canada, the pandemic also wreaked havoc on the upcoming seasons of the Canadian Football League and the aforementioned Canadian Premier League.
Which brings us back to P.E.I., where, on Wednesday, we learned in the provincial legislature that the Canadian-based professional soccer league has indeed inquired about a partnership to allow it to play its season in P.E.I.
Montague-Kilmuir MLA Cory Deagle asked Tourism Minister Matthew MacKay if there was any truth to a rumour the league was looking for a place to play this summer.
MacKay confirmed the league has been in contact.
“They’re looking for a safe place to have their season for the summer and they’re wondering if P.E.I. had any interest at all,” answered MacKay.
Who saw this coming? Anyone? Anyone at all?
The Canadian Premier League has eight clubs playing in cities across the country including Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Victoria, B.C.
The league could bring as many as 300 players and fill 16,000 room nights at hotels and motels to the region they ultimately choose to hold their season.
Our province is in an enviable position as P.E.I. has so far remained relatively unscathed by the coronavirus pandemic and currently has no confirmed cases with the government about to loosen public health restrictions even more. As part of the proposal, the players would self-isolate for 14 days before arriving and a further 14 days once in P.E.I.
While the safety of Islanders must remain our priority, this is an intriguing opportunity for this province at a time when opportunities are hard to come by. It would also help a sector of our economy at a time when few other options will.
And if they are willing to self-isolate for at least 28 days total, the soccer players and staff are probably less risk to us than the cottage owners the province green-lighted for entry last week.
McKay says officials won't rush into a decision, but this is something we need to consider seriously.
Our summer tourist season is about to go bust and for at least some operators this could be enough to help them weather the COVID-19 storm. As a bonus, it could bring additional exposure for our province to the rest of the country as, at least in the past, some of the league's games have been televised nationally on CBC.
Score one for P.E.I.