NFL: Annual Hall of Fame game, ceremony moved to 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic

(Reuters) - The annual NFL Hall of Fame exhibition game, the traditional curtain-raiser to the football season, has been pushed back by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The NFL logo is pictured at an event in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The pre-season opener, which would have seen the Dallas Cowboys face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 6 this year, will now be played on Aug. 5, 2021.

The 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony has also been postponed to August 2021, with 28 former players set to be enshrined in two separate ceremonies next year.

"The health and safety of our Hall of Famers, fans and volunteers who make enshrinement week so special remains our top priority," Pro Football Hall of Fame CEO and president David Baker said in a statement here.

“The Hall will honor the Centennial Class of 2020 next August, along with what promises to be an equally spectacular Class of 2021, as part of a multi-day celebration of football.”

The match has been cancelled twice before -- in 2011 due to the NFL lockout and in 2016 due to poor field conditions.

Tickets for the game were sold out in 22 minutes, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and fans will be allowed to use the same tickets for the game as well as the ceremony next year or opt for a refund.

“We believe postponing enshrinement week events in 2020 is the right way to honor our enshrinees and their families properly, along with the other living Gold Jackets who want to come to Canton for this celebration,” Baker added.

“We also believe next year promises to be the greatest gathering in football ever.”

In the face of the new coronavirus pandemic, the NFL, which has 32 teams spread across the United States, has pushed ahead with plans to start the season as scheduled on Sept. 10, culminating with the Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7.

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris