Airdrie’s competitive men’s football team will not be able to hit the gridiron this summer, after the Alberta Football League (AFL) officially announced the cancellation of the 2020 season June 9.
“We just realized we’re not going to be able to play until Phase 3 [of the Alberta government's relaunch strategy], and we just don’t know when that is,” said AFL president Teej Johannesson in a video posted to the league’s Facebook account. “There was the option of practicing in July, because teams can technically practice right now, and [seeing] if we could possibly have a season in August. But financially, most teams couldn’t make it work. It’s just too costly to pay for practice fields, especially if we don’t know if we’re going to play.”
Airdrie Irish player James Balsdon, who is also the team’s representative on the AFL council, said his teammates were disappointed when they received the news, but understood why the decision was made.
“We’re putting the safety of the players first and we don’t want any backlash from the City or any of the fans with going through with it,” he said.
“If they’re cancelling things like [U SPORTS] and youth football, then if we go ahead, it would look pretty bad on our part. But it’s a good way to look forward to next year and start getting more financials lined up.”
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Balsdon said the council’s decision to call off the season was unanimous, citing player safety, travel logistics and financial repercussions as factors.
“It’s just not plausible to go out and fundraise, and it’s hard to ask guys to pay their player fees if they’re not working or making money,” he said.
“Travel too, and with the Stage 2 rules, you can’t have more than 50 people on a field, and a football team is generally 45 guys on one side.”
The amateur league includes seven franchises across the province, with teams based in Airdrie, Red Deer, Calgary, Cold Lake, Fort McMurray, Peace County and Edmonton.
“We really want to keep the AFL alive,” Johannesson said. “We’re just not going to be able to do it through actually playing. It’s incredibly disappointing for me, the board, the council. It’s just that at this time, it’s the right decision to make. Some people thought we should have made it earlier, but we really wanted to make sure we got it right, and I think we have.”
Balsdon said he will use the year off to continue pursuing team sponsors and recruiting players for the Irish's 2021 season.