As It Happens

Oilers fan slams full-capacity games as Alberta struggles with brutal 4th wave

James Lo is a lifelong Edmonton Oilers fan but he questions the decision to hold hockey games with large crowds of fans, as a brutal fourth wave grips Alberta, and ICU admissions are soaring.

'You're delusional if you're thinking that's not going to lead to further spread,' says Oilers fan James Lo

James Lo is an Edmonton Oilers fan but he questions the decision to allow large crowds of fans to attend games in-person again as Alberta's health-care system struggles with a brutal fourth wave of COVID-19. (Eden Lane/Submitted by James Lo)

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In Alberta, ICU admissions are soaring and some critically ill COVID patients who need ventilators can't get them. But that isn't stopping plans for fans to pack the stands to watch the Edmonton Oilers play the Calgary Flames this weekend.

The teams face off on Sunday in Calgary for a preseason game. Thousands of people are expected to attend in-person at the Scotiabank Saddledome for the first time in over 18 months.

Proof of vaccination will be required for all fans 12 and up. All attendees will be required to wear masks, except for when eating or drinking. 

But more than a dozen doctors have said that having such a big audience is a bad idea.

Even some hockey fans are questioning the decision.

"I just think you're going to really alienate a lot of your fan base by choosing to move forward with this decision," James Lo, a lifelong Edmonton Oilers fan, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Here is part of their conversation.

James, first of all, be honest, if someone were to offer you a ticket to Sunday's game to see your beloved Oilers in person for the first time in 18 months ... what would you say?

Quite honestly, I would probably say no. I mean, I think there's also a difference. It's like a preseason game versus an actual regular season game. But I ... just think with with things are progressing with the pandemic right now, especially in Alberta, it's just not the right time to be in a packed arena right now.

Lo watches the Oilers on TV in his home. He says he will watch the preseason game against the Flames on TV on Sunday. (Eden Lane/Submitted by James Lo)

But would that be a hard call for you to make?

Yeah, I definitely think so.... I think the Oilers and the Flames and the rest of the NHL teams in Canada are, you know, they're implementing [the best] mandates and policies that they can. But ... regardless if everyone is vaccinated and masked in an arena, I just don't think cramming ... people together right at this time is, you know, the best idea anywhere.

Alberta Health Services has said that ... the province is staring down the worst health care crisis in its history. So ... how did you react when you heard the teams were planning to open the stadiums to full capacity?

 Yeah, you know, I think it's an incredibly misguided decision to want to play in front of packed arenas while at the very same time, you know, our ICUs are being overrun with COVID-19 patients. And at the same time, you know, our federal government is asking for assistance from other provinces and trying to accommodate the overflow of those patients.

So, you know, my gut reaction when I first heard the news, I think, you know, it's quite frankly, a bit of a slap in the face to all of those health-care professionals who have been fighting day in and day out on the front lines to combat this pandemic since it began 18 months ago.

Calgary Flames players celebrate a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in May. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

You have something called a restrictions exemption program, and the NHL games will occur under those provisions. And they're going to require people to show that they've been vaccinated. Does that mitigate things? Do you think that that makes it OK?

I understand that all fans are going to have to provide proof of double vaccination [or] have a negative COVID test result and and be masked, you know, at all times unless they're eating and drinking. But, you know, for anyone here in Alberta, you know, it's not being called the vaccine passport, but it is a vaccine passport.

And quite frankly, the one that we were provided by the government is a bit of a joke. You know, it's an editable PDF that, you know, a five-year-old could forge at the end of the day. And I just think, you know, jamming ... rowdy hockey fans together shoulder-to-shoulder with beers in hand, cheering and yelling, you know, you're delusional if you're thinking that's not going to lead to further spread.

You know, it's really just the Calgary Stampede all over again. And that's coming from, you know, a said rowdy hockey fan myself.

Why do you think that the Oilers and the Flames are making this decision? What's behind that, in your view?

I completely understand that hockey is a business. It's entertainment. And this is probably just a revenue issue, right? I mean, they haven't had or been able to have fans really in the arena for, you know, like you said, 18 months. So they're probably hurting a little bit. But I think, you know, what the pandemic has provided for businesses is an opportunity, you know, to be a little bit more creative in terms of coming up with out of [the] box solutions to try to generate business, or try to generate fan revenue in the absence of those those ticket or concession sales. So, you know, I get it....

I think there's long-term ramifications [for] the public relations teams on the Oilers, the Flames and also the NHL.... I think they need to take ... a long and hard look at this decision, because I think optics-wise, it's just not the right time or place.

Well, I presume you will be watching the game at any rate.

You know what, I absolutely probably will be, but I think I will definitely be doing so from the safety of my own home.


Written by Andrea Bellemare. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. This interview has been edited and condensed.
 

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