Opinion: B.C.'s NHL invite a 'curious' move amid a pandemic

One of the more curious aspects of the B.C. government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is its unexpected backing of a potential plan for the NHL to set up shop here.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has taken a cautious, go-slow approach to both gently shutting down some economic sectors and now restricting all sectors as the provincial gradually tries to reopen the economy.

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That approach seems in stark contrast to Premier John Horgan’s somewhat surprising phone call NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in which he essentially offered up the province’s entire hockey infrastructure to the league if it needs it.

The premier was not just talking about playing games in Vancouver. He also floated the idea that games could be played in such places as Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook and Victoria - all of which have junior hockey franchises.

Henry supports the idea. Health Minister Adrian Dix, a sports nut himself (do not even try to take him on in sports trivia), has not shared the same enthusiasm, but I don’t think he’s opposed to it.

I can see why the B.C. government is pushing the idea: hockey is hugely popular and restoring the NHL season (or whatever form the resumption of games takes) would likely be tremendously popular and provide a significant boost to public morale.

But logistical challenges are enormous and perhaps impossible to meet. Major League Baseball has prepared a 67-page guide for their leagues’ potential reopening.

That guide calls for constant testing of players, the complete isolation from society everyone to do with a team or a game, the constant cleaning of equipment and trying to keep a social distance between everyone involved at all times.

Applying complex rules to a more complex game such as hockey seems even more daunting. Hockey is a much more physical contest and social distancing is impossible.

The B.C. government will walk a fine line here. It cannot look like it is bending over backwards for a U.S.-dominated organization run by several hundred young millionaires, at a time when 400,000 people are out of work.

Then there is the question of the league potentially coming into much more contact with our health-care system, when human and physical resources are to going to be stretched to the maximum as we try to recover more than 50,000 elective surgeries.

Finally, the players would likely have to be tested for COVID19 on a regular basis. Would that take away resources for testing elsewhere in B.C. or at potential community outbreaks of the virus?

Placed against this daunting backdrop, however, is the very real fact that people want to have fun again. Watching hockey would certainly provide some respite (I am getting tired of watching replays of playoff battles from the 1980s) on that front but it may prove to be an elusive hope.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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