Sunday 01 November 2020, 18:41

Canadian Premier League shows resilience through COVID-19

  • Forge FC won the 2020 Canadian Premier League (CPL) in September

  • CPL is a key project for the FIFA Forward Development Programme in Canada

  • highlights a successful campaign in the midst of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected professional and amateur leagues all around the world with most reshaped or postponed, if not cancelled altogether. The Canadian Premier League (CPL), launched only in 2019 and entering its second season, has been no exception. Despite the difficulties resulting from the pandemic, this brand-new professional competition showed outstanding resilience and adaptability by organising a highly-competitive and safe environment in collaboration with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the relevant public health authorities.

As part of the CSA’s 2019-2021 strategic plan – Canada Soccer Nation - the CPL was rapidly identified as one of the key projects to be part of the FIFA Forward Development Programme in Canada. Since 2017, FIFA and the CSA have collaborated to support this new league aimed at growing the top part of Canada’s football pyramid with a goal to support the national teams’ performance on the international stage.

As the co-host of the FIFA World Cup 2026™ with Mexico and the USA, Canada will seize on the momentum to grow its domestic professional league and to ingrain football into Canada’s culture. Nevertheless, with the FIFA World Cup™ still several years away, and the start-up phase still ongoing, the league may experience financial limitations to further develop. In this context, the FIFA Forward Development Programme provides support seeking to consolidate the league. In 2020, this support has been especially needed in order to respond to the additional constraints deriving from the pandemic.

The CPL offers a pathway for Canadian players and is a key element for football development in the country with 51 new professional Canadian players identified after its first season in 2019. With a promising future, and despite challenges imposed by COVID-19, the CPL was not willing to let 2020 happen without a season being played. The league’s format was adapted, organising a first stage in which all teams played against each other, resulting in a greatly entertaining and competitive round with the top seven teams separated by only five points at the end of this first stage.

The top four clubs (Forge FC, HFX Wanderers, Cavalry FC and Pacific FC) advanced to the second round, from which the best two had the privilege to play a single-match final where Forge FC won the title for the second consecutive year. Numbers in 2020 have been equally promising as in 2019. This season, 173 players of 24 different nationalities took part in the competition; The average age was 24.9 years old; and 92 goals were scored in a total of 3,150 minutes played, representing one goal each 34.2 minutes.

The 2020 season was not only designed and implemented in a bubble model that allowed the competition to be played in a safe manner, but also saw an increase in the number of participating teams. With the incorporation of Atletico Ottawa (owned by Atletico Madrid), eight teams participated in the “Island Games” that took place on Prince Edward Island from 14 August to 19 September.

Safety was the top priority and a strict health and safety protocol developed in consultation between the CSA and public health authorities was applied to all players, technical staff, club and league personnel, referees, game officials, broadcast staff, etc. All teams were isolated during 14 days before traveling to Prince Edward Island and several rounds of COVID-19 testing were undertaken during the competition. In addition, the provincial government arranged medical oversight to support the implementation of all procedures. Fortunately, this meticulous attention to detail and the implementation of strict protocols allowed the organisers to report zero cases of infection among players and club staff members. Undoubtedly, this result is ideal and with the completion of the 2020 season, the CPL is in excellent shape and has a promising future.

“The Canadian Soccer Association is pleased to congratulate the Canadian Premier League on the successful completion of the 2020 Island Games, which represents their second season as Canada’s top domestic professional league”, said Canadian Soccer Association President Steven Reed. “The eight teams provided some much-desired football competition for Canadian soccer fans from coast to coast helping us to unite our Canada soccer nation as we continue to support each other through the global pandemic.”

Canadian Premier League Commissioner David Clanachan explained, “From the beginning we acted as partners including Canada Soccer and all of our stakeholders including the relevant PEI officials, every conversation we had since April was always collaborative and focused on 'how do we get this done' allowing us to find the balance between success for the league and maintaining high health and safety protocols for all involved. Without the support, hard work and involvement from so many, including our clubs, coaches and players, we would not be where we are today – celebrating an incredibly successful CPL 2020 season - that is another first in our history books.”

Keeping an eye on the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic and possible scenarios, the Canadian Premier League is already preparing for the 2021 season. Based on the 2019 and 2020 experiences, there is no doubt that the CPL will once again offer an exciting competition to delight Canadians and football fans everywhere.