Woodbine CEO questions Ontario decision to let NHL play on lockdown

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TORONTO – As Ontario remains on lockdown and COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high, Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson wonders why the provincial government has approved NHL games at a time when many other sports are not allowed to operate.

The Ontario government gave the green light to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators to host home games during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday. Lisa MacLeod, the province’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture, said in a statement that the approval was granted after “careful consideration of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted to protect players, staff and our communities from the spread of COVID-19[FEMININE”[FEMININE »

MacLeod added that the decision was made following meetings with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and senior public health officials in Toronto and Ottawa.

Ontario reported a record 4,249 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, of which about 450 are attributed to a delay in downloading data from Toronto Public Health. Premier Doug Ford hinted at further restrictions for the province in light of the new numbers.

The previous record was 3,519 cases registered on Thursday.

The Ontario government shutdown last month forced the cancellation of harness racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park in Campbellville, Ont. Woodbine Entertainment canceled its 2020 Thoroughbred card at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto in November – some three weeks ahead of schedule – after horse racing was shortlisted in accordance with the province’s response to COVID- 19.

“I appreciate that the government has some very difficult choices and I really empathize with the office of Premier (Ontario Minister of Health) Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams (Chief Medical Officer of the ‘Ontario), ”Lawson said. “I’m not sure anyone, including us, should or needs to play sports amid a provincial health lockdown with numbers over 3,000.

“I’m just thinking, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ As you look at the numbers and watch them climb and not improve, you begin to realize that it is not the right thing to do. If you are going to have a provincial health lockout then you better have a health lockout. and live by, “We only need essential staff and services and we make better use of this time, which I think the Prime Minister called a circuit breaker, to be a circuit breaker.”

MacLeod did not immediately respond to an interview request on Friday.

News that the province and the NHL were in talks over whether games could be allowed in Ontario surfaced last month. Lawson was surprised at the lack of dialogue between the Ford government and Woodbine.

“It’s surprising to me that they haven’t given us more consideration or at least a sign of consideration or consultation on this matter,” he said. “It seems surprising to me that they didn’t do this and believe me, it’s not for lack of trying on my part.

“Even a conversation saying, ‘Listen, we can hear you. We appreciate your safety record, this is a difficult time and we are not going to change our mind and we will be looking at this seriously in late January or February. I could accept that, but we don’t even hear it and it’s frustrating for a huge pillar of rural Ontario. ”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Woodbine to delay the start of his 2020 Thoroughbred and Harness season by about seven weeks. And once the race started, it went on without spectators with only essential staff under strict measures at both Woodbine Racecourse and Woodbine Mohawk Park.

Woodbine has also formed a COVID committee with a medical consultant and established his own 35-page operations manual. The end result was no positive Mohawk test and only one at the end of the Thoroughbred season at Woodbine.

“I think we’ve set the gold standard,” Lawson said. “I do not accept ‘rigorous health and safety protocols’ when you cross provincial borders and get on planes and go to hotels.

“Yeah, people are going to be protected and do their best to keep (the NHL players) in a bubble and impose strict restrictions on player movement. But it’s not as good as what we had in place in Mohawk. ”

Lawson added that he was not the only one feeling frustrated with the Ontario government’s decision regarding the NHL games here.

“I’m not complaining about the NHL, I’m complaining that there was no fairness, there was no process by the government,” he said. “Like I said, I understand, they have tough choices, but there are a lot of people who aren’t happy with them: the ski community, amateur hockey and all the other hockey leagues.

“They are all unhappy. ”

Lawson said Ontario’s silence on the horse racing issue leaves many people in doubt.

“We have thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on (horse racing),” he said. “Yes we are all suffering, yes there are tough choices, there are big sacrifices and it’s a tough time.

“There are thousands of people who have no idea and it doesn’t look good when they allow a sport, actually a league, to go ahead and not say anything to the horse racing people.

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