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ANDY WALKER: Professional soccer bubble comes to P.E.I.

The Canadian Premier League will play its 2020 soccer season at UPEI in Charlottetown. The Prince Edward Island Soccer Association was holding a camp there on Wednesday.
The Canadian Premier League will play its 2020 soccer season at UPEI in Charlottetown. The Prince Edward Island Soccer Association was holding a camp there recently. - Jason Malloy

Starting next month, P.E.I. will become a hotbed of professional soccer.

Like many sports leagues, including Major League Soccer (which has teams in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), the Canadian Premier League has decided to play its season in what has been termed a bubble. All of the teams are brought to a central location where the entire season is played, eliminating the need for travel.

Charlottetown beat out Moncton and Kelowna, British Columbia for the honour of hosting the eight teams in the league for 55 days. The province and the capital city put up much of the $1.5 million required to bring the 300 plus players and staff to the province.

Economic Development, Tourism and Culture Minister Matthew MacKay estimates the arrival of the players will generate close to $5 million in economic activity for the province. Since fans won't be allowed in the stands (at least for initial games), that figure is certainly less than would be expected for a tournament in the pre-COVID-19 world. However, it has to be pointed out that in a pre-COVID-19 world, playing games in P.E.I. would not be a consideration.

MacKay estimates the arrival of the teams will generate the equivalent of $12 million in promotion activity. That seems like an overestimation considering the fact the league is only in its second year and the games are being telecast on a digital network geared exclusively to soccer fans.

Under the protocols agreed to by the league and the province, the players are now in four weeks of self-isolation in the team's home cities, and they are being tested regularly. The first round of 285 tests all came back negative. They will be flying to the province by charter aircraft and staying at the Delta Prince Edward Hotel — each team on different floor. Once they arrive on the Island, they will be required to isolate for five days, and they will be allowed to practice as a team during that time.

While the shorter isolation time may be warranted due to the other measures put in place, it did provoke some backlash on social media. That is likely due to the fact it came on the heels of another announcement by the chief public health officer that Canadians living outside of the Atlantic bubble could visit family in the province provided they self-isolated for 14 days.

While that may prove helpful for retired former residents who don't own property here (seasonal residents have been able to come since early July provided they self-isolated), it is hard to imagine many working people choosing the option of spending two weeks of their vacation still not being able to see their family and perhaps facing the possibility of further self-isolation when they return home. There were lots of social media comments wishing relatives were a professional athletes so the isolation period would considerably shorter.

There is no question government and public health officials have done a fantastic job of containing the virus. However, the fact remains the restrictions on P.E.I. are among the toughest in the country and when exceptions are made it could be harder to get a buy-in going forward.

Andy Walker is a former reporter for the Journal-Pioneer and is now a freelance writer who lives in Cornwall, P.E.I. 


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