VANCOUVER – The B.C. Lions will be in the Grey Cup on home turf, raising memories of the last time the home team competed for a coveted cup in Vancouver.
But Grey Cup organizers say there are very few similarities between Canada’s football championship this year and Vancouver’s failed run toward the Stanley Cup.
For starters, fans won’t be invited to watch the Grey Cup game on a huge outdoor television, said Scott Ackles, the general manager for the Grey Cup festival.
“Anywhere where we have a video board, all of our activities shut down before kickoff occurs,” he said.
The huge screens that broadcast the Stanley Cup’s final games to tens of thousands of fans in downtown Vancouver were partially blamed in an independent report on the riot for creating the circumstances that allowed the melee to happen.
But Ackles said in an interview there were never plans for the huge screens at the Grey Cup, even before the riot.
“I don’t think it’s ever occurred before in the past … It’s November. Look at the weather outside. It’s going to be chilly. It may be a little bit wet.”
The B.C. Lions won the right on the weekend to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Grey Cup on Sunday, five months after thousands of rioters trashed Vancouver’s downtown, looted stores and set vehicles on fire.
But Ackles said the two championships can’t be compared.
“The Grey Cup is just a completely different event than the Stanley Cup,” he said.
“There’s no build-up of a series of games and back and forth between cities. We know that it’s going to happen in the last week in November. Typically a city knows three years in advance that they’re going to be the host.”
That compares with the lead-up of a Stanley Cup series with the final game being hosted in a city depending on the success or failure of the team in previous games.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson acknowledged Monday that lessons have been learned from the June riots that will inform planning for the Grey Cup.
“Obviously, we have learnings from our June 15 nightmare, and the city’s got a large organizing committee now that was struck coming out of that this summer,” Robertson told CKNW radio show host Bill Good.
Robertson was re-elected mayor on the weekend.
“We’re really looking at every possible scenario and being prepared. We don’t anticipate anything like what we saw June 15. Those conditions were very unique.”
Still, at least one business isn’t taking safety for granted.
London Drugs president Wynne Powell said he believes the Grey Cup crowd will be different from the one that showed up for the Stanley Cup game.
“We could be wrong but we’re all just keeping our fingers and toes crossed, as you can imagine,” he said. “It was a bad moment for all of us in Vancouver when that occurred. A sad moment.”
He said the store is more protected than ever after rioters equipped with crow bars and sledgehammers smashed through high-security glass and bars, terrorizing staff and causing $1 million in damage.
“We’ve doubled the strength of the burglar bars, and along with some other things that I do not want to disclose, we feel that we’re well protected,” he said of the store where employees were trapped for hours waiting for police to respond.
“We feel that the police have learned a lot from the Stanley Cup riot,” he said.
“We’ve had discussions with them, we’ve had discussions with the mayor’s office. We’re very confident that what we experienced during the Stanley Cup should not occur again.”
Police are recommending multiple charges against 60 people, following the June 15 riot.
Critics have blamed everything from a lack of police presence to a gathering of too many people in the city’s downtown core for the melee that made international headlines.
The Lions last won the Grey Cup in 1994, and the game was at home. It was also the same year the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup in Game 7 to the New York Rangers. There was a hockey riot that year, too.
Police declined comment Monday on Grey Cup preparations, saying more information will be coming later in the week.