The Saskatchewan Roughriders will be requiring fans to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result to attend home games this September.
"I'm very excited about that. It means I might be able to go to a game later this year. More importantly, the Saskatchewan public will be safer," said Cheryl Camillo, assistant professor for the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy at the University of Regina.
The move, with a target date of Sept. 17, comes as cases surge across the province, with more than 800 new infections reported over the past three days. More than 100 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, and the vast majority are unvaccinated.
The team consulted with league and health officials as well as the stadium operator and "decided that this is the right decision for our club and for our fans," Roughriders president and CEO Craig Reynolds said in a news release Monday morning.
WATCH | Roughriders president and CEO Craig Reynolds spoke about the team's decision Monday
Anyone aged 12 and over will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken less than 48 hours before game time.
"Fans under the age of 12 who are currently unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be exempt from the vaccination requirement. A negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the start of the game will also be accepted for partially vaccinated adults or those who may be unable to receive the vaccine for medical or religious reasons," the release said.
Details of the screening methods will be available in the coming days, according to the release.
"We continue to strongly encourage all of our fans to get fully vaccinated for the safety of themselves and others and to wear masks to our games as an extra layer of protection," Reynolds said.
In recent days, health policy experts and some fans urged the Roughriders to make the change, as seven out of nine CFL teams already require proof of vaccination.
Other experts in the sports business said the Roughriders and other teams could lose money if they dither or reject calls for vaccine proof.
"I can understand why teams and leagues would want to ensure some confidence," Marvin Washington, a professor of sports management at Portland State University, said last week. "If I feel confident everyone around me is as protected as I am, I'm more likely to attend."
Health and business experts said it would be simpler and more effective for the Saskatchewan government to bring in a vaccine passport system, as B.C., Manitoba and Quebec have done. But Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said last week that would infringe on personal liberties. He said the Roughriders and individual businesses are free to impose their own rules, and encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
Premier Scott Moe reiterated Merriman's position on Monday. Moe applauded the Roughriders' decision, but stopped short of introducing provincial vaccine mandates for event categories such as large, non-essential gatherings.
Camillo said COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations, as well as a growing impatience with those who choose to not get vaccinated, could force the government to change course.
"Like we saw with the Roughriders, it's inevitable because it is the common sense decision. Cases are going up as we can all see," she said.