'An extra step': More than 95 per cent of WHL players, coaches and staff already vaccinated
Following the lead of the Ontario and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues, the Western Hockey League made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all players, coaches and staff for the upcoming season.
According to WHL commissioner Ron Robison, more than 95 per cent of the people that fall under the league’s mandatory vaccination policy were already fully vaccinated before Monday’s announcement.
"Our objective has always been to make sure we provide as safe and healthy environment as possible for the players and staff and this is an extra step," Robison told CTV News on Tuesday.
Robison said the decision was made after consultation with the teams and health officials in each province and state.
The league’s policy will apply to anyone that will interact directly and on a regular basis with players, like hockey operations staff, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, on-ice officials, and ice level off-ice officials.
Anyone falling under that criteria will need to be fully vaccinated 14 days prior to the start of the regular season on Oct. 1.
After spending the 2020-21 season in a hub with the rest of the East Division at the Brandt Centre, the Regina Pats are welcoming the decision by the WHL.
"Having the policy in place will mitigate any risk to those individuals and risk to seeing a season again that is either abbreviated or cancelled outright," Travis Buhnai, chief operating officer of the Regina Pats, said.
The WHL has 17 Canadian teams across four provinces and five American teams. The league said travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border and in Manitoba made the decision necessary.
"It was necessary for us to take the next step in this regard in order to make sure all players and staff could participate in our entire schedule during the regular season and playoffs," Robison said.
While the league was able to get in a shortened season during the pandemic with each team playing within its own divisions, Robison said he’s looking forward to a return to a more normal season, which this policy protects.
"We’re really excited to get going with our training camps on Sept. 1 and then the regular season Oct. 1 and can’t wait to see fans back in the building as well to be part of this," he said.
The WHL plans on having further protocols in place to limit the spread of the virus, but when it comes to proof of vaccination for fans, the league will be leaving that decision up to each individual team.
The Pats said they plan on following the current public health guidelines, similar to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which don’t require fans to be vaccinated to be in attendance.