CFL

CFL postpones training camps in response to pandemic

The CFL has postponed the start of training camps indefinitely in response to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Full training camps had been scheduled to start May 17.

Had been scheduled to open May 17

Many CFL players have jobs in the off-season, but the COVID-19 crisis has left a number of them out of work. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Henoc Muamba's two-year-old daughter, Thea, will remain a part of the Montreal Alouettes linebacker's off-season workouts for a little while longer.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie postponed the start of training camps indefinitely Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hardly a surprise given the NHL, NBA, MLS, and Major League Baseball have all had to either suspend or delay the start of their seasons.

"The ongoing global pandemic and the resulting directives issued by various governments make it unsafe to proceed with plans to gather our athletes and coaches together as scheduled," Ambrosie said in a statement.

Rookie camps were scheduled to open May 13 with training camps starting four days later.

The CFL had already cancelled two regional combines and national combine while postponing its April 16 global draft. The Canadian draft remains set for April 30.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has forced CFL clubs to limit their facilities to only those players rehabbing injuries, and even then only one at a time. Gyms across North America have also closed their doors, forcing many players to be innovative in their workouts.

'You have to find a way'

So last week, Muamba and teammate James Wilder Jr. both tweeted good-natured videos of them hoisting their young children above their heads as part of their new lifting regiments.

"You have to find a way," Muamba said with a chuckle. "As much as I know the league wants to start the season on time and fans want to watch, we can't do that until we know it's going to be completely safe for players, coaches and fans alike."

As Montreal's player rep, Muamba wasn't surprised by the move. The CFL and CFLPA have been discussing contingency plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously it's more challenging but at the end of the day it's part of being a professional," Muamba said. "You have to find a way to stay prepared and ready for when the time comes that we're all called in to training camp."

Montreal Alouettes linebacker Henoc Muamba poses with the trophy for the most outstanding Canadian award at the CFL Awards in November 2019. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA's executive director, said the league's decision best serves all involved.

"The health, safety and well-being of all players is our priority during these extraordinarily uncertain times," he said in a statement. "And while it wasn't an easy decision to postpone training camps, it's in the best interest of our players, their families, fans and all those close to the game."

Virus will dictate timetable

But with camps starting later, conventional wisdom suggests the CFL will have to also reschedule the start of its regular season, which is slated for June 11. And if that happened, the traditional 18-game campaign would have to be reduced in order get a season in and still have it culminate with the Grey Cup game Nov. 22 in Regina.

"As for our future plans, we are in the hands of our public health officials," Ambrosie said. "We acknowledge their timetable will be dictated by the virus itself.

"We will make further decisions when we can and share them with our fans and the public as soon as possible."

For veteran linebacker Marcus Ball, a CFL free agent, the later start to camp means more time to prepare and spend with his wife and two young children in Atlanta. As a personal trainer in the off-season, Ball has been able to get in solid home workouts after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2019 with Calgary.

"I think everyone kind of expected that would happen," he said. "It's a very unfortunate situation . . . but the CFL is a very strong, smart and aware league that's always taken care of the players' interests so this is no surprise for them to push back training camp.

"It will be a good thing because this (COVID-19) isn't just in a particular region, it's a world-wide pandemic and everyone is suffering from it. This will give more time to plan and prepare, not to say I wanted or wished for more time, it's having to play the cards you're dealt."

Family time

And that could also mean more viewings for Ball of the Disney film Frozen 2 with his kids.

"Frozen 2 has been a crowd favourite right now," Ball said. "I'm trying to get away from it but the kids love it.

"But it's a dope movie, it's pretty cool."

Running back Charlie Power of the Calgary Stampeders was expecting Monday's announcement. He said while the novel coronavirus outbreak is forcing players to change their off-season workouts, it's also creating potential financial concerns.

"The biggest impact has just been from everything closing down . . . so you have to modify how you're training," he said. "On the other side of things, it's stretching the funds from last season to make sure you can make it until a season gets going.

"Everyone realizes this is bigger than football but at the same time players in the CFL aren't making the typical pro athletes' salary where we can survive for a long time. It's about figuring out how to stretch those funds while at the same time staying motivated and realize there's going to be a time when the season gets going again and you have to remain ready."

Receiver DeVier Posey, who signed with Hamilton this off-season as a free agent, saw the CFL's decision coming.

"It makes total sense," said Posey, the '17 Grey Cup MVP. "COVID-19, for me as a football player, is a wakeup call and I hope everyone else understands what other skills they're good and open their minds to the different platforms they can perform on.

"People in the medical world or who work other jobs like in grocery stores or garbage disposal, those people are true heroes. We (pro athletes) aren't the true heroes of the country, we only provide the true heroes their entertainment and I am appreciating that perspective."

Muamba added times like this allow players to think more about life after football.

"I think it's important for every player to analyze where they're at in their life and career," Muamba said. "Just to kind of self reflect and see if you were to transition from the game, where exactly are you.

"The extra time gives us a chance to also dive into different things "

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