(Reuters) - The start of the Canadian Football League's 2021 season will be pushed back almost two months and the schedule trimmed from 18 to 14 games as it continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFL said on Wednesday.
The season, which was set to start on June 10, will now kick off on Aug. 5 while the 108th Grey Cup, one of Canada's biggest annual sporting events, will by played on Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ontario.
After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the entire 2020 season the CFL is facing similar challenges this year as a third wave washes across the country driving up cases.
Despite the setbacks CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie remained defiant, assuring fans in a statement: "We will play CFL football in 2021."
"The bottom line is we are optimistic we will have a season in 2021, culminating in a great Grey Cup," added the commissioner.
If the CFL is to operate in 2021 it will need permission from provincial governments and approval of public health officials.
The nine-team league will also need fans back in the stands or federal government financial assistance.
"The CFL depends on ticket revenue more than other professional sports leagues in North America," said Ambrosie. "Fans in the stands account for at least half of our revenue.
"Our clubs already stand to suffer substantial financial losses this year. Playing without fans in the stands would dramatically increase those losses."
The pandemic has devastated Canadian sport.
Canada's only NBA team the Toronto Raptors, only Major League Baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays and the country's three Major League Soccer teams have all had to find temporary homes in the United States due to COVID-19 travel restrictions between the two countries.
The country's seven NHL teams have been placed in a North division and will play among themselves through the entire regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.
A decision on where Canadian teams will play in the third round and beyond has not been made.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)