CFLPA playing role of educator with membership during COVID-19 pandemic

TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Brian Ramsay and the CFL Players' Association to adopt the role of educators.

As the threat of a shortened '20 CFL season increases daily because of the outbreak, the union gathers information daily on possible on government subsidies that could be available for players.

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"What we've been doing since we've been faced with this crisis . . . is provide resources," Ramsay said Friday. "Where it gets tough for us is we can't give clear direction and say, 'Yes, you're going to get this subsidy.'

"Our job is to facilitate and educate . . . but at the end of the day the decision on the application, that's controlled by the government. What we're doing is making sure there isn't a hurdle for players to be able to apply for various subsidies."

The city of Calgary delivered the latest blow against the CFL's regular season opening June 11, as scheduled. On Friday, it cancelled all public events there until June 30.

The Calgary Stampeders were to host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in an exhibition game May 30. Then they were to open the regular season entertaining the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions on June 12 and June 18, respectively.

The union and CFL continue to discuss potential contingency plans for the 2020 season. The league has already indefinitely postponed the start of training camps.

Rookie camps were scheduled to begin May 13 with training camps opening four days later.

CFL players currently can't apply for any subsidies. Workers applying for unemployment insurance benefits, for example, can only do so after being without work and pay for at least seven consecutive days in the last 52 weeks.

And the current uncertainty created by the novel coronavirus outbreak makes it hard for players to stop their football training and look towards securing off-season employment .

"Again, there are many questions that can't be answered right now," Ramsay said. "One focus for us is trying to give our players as much of a timeline as possible right now in the world we're living in so they can prepare.

"Whether that preparation is their physical training for football or trying to find employment to supplement their income."

Ramsay said the CFLPA has information on potential subsidies available to players on its website (www.cflpa.com) as well as a specific COVID-19 tab. Ramsay added any CFL players owed bonus money leading up to the start of camp will be paid.

Ramsay admits being unsure of what lies ahead is playing on players' minds.

"But it's weighing on many members of the public right now," he said. "There are many people experiencing this."

Ramsay said if the situation arises, the CFLPA has been told its players can apply for unemployment insurance benefits.

"One of the hard things we're dealing with are the changes," Ramsay said. "The development of the CERB — Canadian Emergency Response Benefit — didn't exist a month ago.

"What we're trying to do is provide all of the different funding options to our players to see what they personally can apply for and what would fit for them."

CERB is a program for Canadians who've been forced to stop working due to the pandemic. It provides $500 weekly for up to 16 weeks.

The federal government will begin accepting CERB applications Monday.

While the CFL and its players are discussing contingency plans, they're also addressing certain elements of the collective bargaining agreement. Under the present deal, players receive medical coverage up to the day before the start of the regular season, or June 10 in this instance.

However, if the COVID-19 pandemic forces the league to push back the start of the '20 regular season, there will be a period of time where players won't have that coverage.

"The uncertainty is bred from the significant changes that are happening," Ramsay said. "You have a group call at noon and by 4 p.m. there's a significant directional change by either the provincial or federal governments regarding what you just talked about.

"As cliche as it sounds, what we're trying to do is take that step back and really what can we control from our side? We can control the resources going out . . . and just provide those resources as we are in a crisis right now."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

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