The Saskatchewan Roughriders have been waiting more than 18 months to welcome fans back into Mosaic Stadium, but the wait may almost be over, as the province has put a target date on lifting restrictions on large gatherings.
On Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said the province would lift restrictions on gathering sizes and remove the provincial mask mandate once three weeks have passed since 70 per cent of people 12 and older are vaccinated, and three weeks have passed with Step 2 of the province's reopening plan —which is currently planned for June 20 — begins.
This is in addition to the rest of Step 3 of the reopening plan, when most other restrictions will be lifted. This is scheduled to begin three weeks after 70 per cent of people 18 and up are vaccinated, along with three weeks having elapsed since Step 2.
The earliest possible date for Step 3 is July 11.
On Tuesday, shortly after Moe's news conference concluded, the Roughriders released a statement.
"We are thrilled to hear from the Premier that we will be able to welcome Rider Nation back to Mosaic Stadium without capacity restrictions once step three is achieved."
The CFL cancelled its 2020 season in August due to COVID-19 after initially planning to play a shortened season in Winnipeg.
The last game played at Mosaic Stadium was on Nov. 17, 2019. A sellout crowd of 33,300 saw the Roughriders beaten 20-13 in the West Division final by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The club was set to host the 2020 Grey Cup, but will now have to wait until 2022.
"A lot of work is happening behind the scenes to be able to welcome fans back in the safest way possible. We will communicate any health and safety protocols as well as our ticket process as soon as they are finalized."
The team urged its fans to get vaccinated.
"In the meantime, we encourage you to help the province reach its Step 3 goal by getting your vaccine as soon as you are eligible and by continuing to follow all the current health guidelines," the statement read.
'Stadium may not be full'
On Tuesday, Moe referenced the increase in sporting events with large crowds being held in the United States in recent weeks.
He said the U.S. percentage of people 12 and over with a first dose is lower than Saskatchewan, and will likely still be lower when the province lifts its restrictions.
As of Wednesday, 60 per cent of those 12 and over had at least one dose in the U.S., compared to 63 per cent in Saskatchewan.
However, the percentage of those with a second dose in the U.S. is much higher than in Saskatchewan.
More than 40 per cent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, while Saskatchewan has fully vaccinated seven per cent of its population.
Stadium capacity and gathering limits for events have varied from state to state.
The NFL announced it would allow full capacity stadiums this fall, pending local approval. As of Wednesday, only the Indianapolis Colts had not committed to full capacity.
Canadian NHL teams started allowing fans into buildings in the past week, with the Montreal Canadiens permitting 2,500 fans inside the Bell Centre for Game 6 of its series with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
The Maple Leafs were allowed 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers inside Scotiabank Arena for Game 7 on Monday.
The Manitoba government is allowing 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers inside Bell MTS Place for Games 1 and 2 of the series between the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadian, which starts Wednesday. The arena can seat up to 16,345 fans.
Moe said it was too early to say if the Roughriders will aim to have a full stadium. He said the number of fans allowed in once the restrictions are lifted would be up to the team.
He said he plans to be there.
"If I'm able to receive my second dose prior to that, I have no problem attending a Rider game regardless of the number of people in the stands," he said.
"I'll probably carry a mask with me and I may put it on at various times throughout the game."
Moe added that by the time the season begins he "may think differently."
CFL season set for August
The 2021 CFL season would have been kicking off next week, if not for COVID-19.
In April, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced the league would begin play August 5 and play a 14-game season.
Ambrosie said the season starting on time was dependent on the approval of public health officials across the country and the ability to have fans inside stadiums.
"The CFL depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America. Fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue. Our clubs already stand to suffer substantial financial losses this year. Playing without fans in the stands would dramatically increase those losses," Ambrosie said in April.