“As excited as I can be for the return of hockey, I worry about the mixed messages it sends. ”
On Friday, the NHL and its players’ union officially signed an agreement confirming the return of hockey teams in the spring to Edmonton and Toronto.
Virani, who was interviewed on Monday Edmonton AM, originally expressed this concern on Twitter that their plan might be a bad idea.
He said he didn’t want to throw cold water on something that was eagerly awaited, but people are waiting for a signal that life is back to normal after the pandemic. The return of the NHL could look like this signal, although Alberta has seen a recent increase in new cases of COVID-19 since Friday.
“If people feel like a big green light that COVID is tempering or leaving, this is unfortunately not the right message,” said Virani.
The province, meanwhile, is excited about the news. Prime Minister Jason Kenney praised the pivotal city’s announcement in a video posted to Twitter on Friday.
“We are going to get an incredible amount of free advertising in North America and around the world that will prepare us for the future revival of our tourism industry when travel returns after COVID,” Kenney said in the video.
Virani said COVID-19 poses a long-term risk to athletes who may have breathing problems long after they have otherwise recovered from the disease.
“We have learned that if you survive a COVID infection, there may well be long-term respiratory effects, and elite athletes somehow need their lung shape,” said Virani.
“As it stands, their careers are very short and we would hate that someone’s career would be even shorter due to COVID infection. ”
A burst in the central city bubble, he said, could affect arena staff and security. The risk also extends to fans.
Virani noted that in Kelowna, a recent COVID-19 outbreak was linked to a Cactus Club Cafe. Pubs and restaurants are popular places to watch large group hockey games, he said, and the return of the NHL could make fans want to do the same in Edmonton, even if the province doesn’t. may not be ready.
Dan Mason, sports economist at the University of Alberta, said athletes could be safer in the Edmonton bubble than they were at home, where they could have been exposed to COVID -19 in public.
For fans, Mason said he doesn’t expect the risk of people coming together in public to watch games to be different simply because Edmonton hosts the games. Any city with an NHL team that makes the playoff run runs the same risk, he said.
“It will be up to the province and the people of the province to make sure they follow the social distancing regulations,” said Mason.
“Having said that, if a team goes to the Stanley Cup, it will encourage fans to come together and celebrate. “