CFL Players Association questions why Labour Day game went ahead despite poor air quality

Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, left, looks on as Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier throws the ball during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna, left, looks on as Calgary Stampeders quarterback Jake Maier throws the ball during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) is expressing concerns after Monday's Labour Day Classic between the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Elks at McMahon stadium went ahead despite smoky air conditions.

Brian Ramsay, executive director of CFLPA, told CBC News that the CFL had "broken the agreement" it made with the CFLPA to halt any on-field activities when air quality ratings are above 7.

Air quality readings throughout the day in Calgary on Monday oscillated between 8-10 — according to Environment Canada's Air Quality Health Index for Calgary — measurements that are classified as high risk.

"We expressed our concern to the CFL prior to the game [and] at the start of the game, in fact, we demanded that they remove the players from the field," said Ramsay.

"Obviously this is very upsetting for our membership … they were confused as to why the game wasn't stopped."

Edmonton Elks quarterback Tre Ford, left, runs the ball as Calgary Stampeders defensive back Branden Dozier chases him during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.
Edmonton Elks quarterback Tre Ford, left, runs the ball as Calgary Stampeders defensive back Branden Dozier chases him during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.

Edmonton Elks quarterback Tre Ford, left, runs the ball as Calgary Stampeders defensive back Branden Dozier chases him during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Ramsay said that players noticed how smoky it was during the game, and that they are aware of the impact such conditions have on their lungs and respiratory systems after exerting themselves for that long outside.

He added that the CFLPA has reached out to the Occupational Health and Safety Centre in Alberta and that they plan to meet with the commissioner of the CFL on Thursday this week.

Lucas Barrett, associate vice president of communications and public affairs with the CFL, said the local readings they took at the stadium were consistently rated as moderate throughout the day.

"Beginning at noon [on Monday], air quality readings were taken inside McMahon Stadium every 30 minutes until the conclusion of the game," Barrett said in a statement to CBC News.

"Each of those readings was shared with the League Office, the CFLPA and the two competing teams."

Barrett added that this is a common procedure before and during games where there are concerns over air quality.

"As is the case with all matters, the CFL is happy to discuss all procedures and practices with our partners at the CFLPA."

Ramsay said that player concerns over air quality isn't anything new, and that it's an issue that has come up repeatedly since 2019 in response to wildfires across the country.

He hopes, however, that Thursday's meeting with the CFL will "ensure that this never happens again."