Raptors denied permission to play in Canada, head to Tampa
TORONTO (AP) - The Toronto Raptors will start the NBA season next month in Tampa, Florida due to travel restrictions imposed by the Canadian government due to the pandemic.
The Raptors had been visiting other locations for several weeks, including Sunrise, Florida, home of the NHL's Florida Panthers. With the NBA training camp less than two weeks away and a season starting on December 22nd, the Raptors had to make a final decision.
Instead, they play home games at Amalie Arena, home of Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Ultimately, Canadians' current public health situation, coupled with the urgent need to determine where we will play, means that we begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida," said Masai Ujiri, president of Raptors. in a statement on Friday.
An official familiar with the Canadian government's decision told The Associated Press that there was too much COVID-19 floating around the United States to allow for cross-border travel that is not strictly necessary.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and was not empowered to speak publicly about the matter, said there was a chance the decision could be reviewed next year.
The Raptors, the only Canadian team in the NBA, and the league needed an exemption from the requirement that anyone entering Canada for non-essential reasons must be isolated for 14 days. The border between the USA and Canada remains closed to unnecessary travel.
Dr. Andrew Morris, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network, said the Canadian government had made the right decision.
"In the current situation, it is almost impossible for the government to adequately sanction travel outside a bubble," said Morris.
For the Raptors, now is Florida time back home.
Toronto became the first NBA team to arrive in Florida last summer to begin preparations for the restarted season in a bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando. The Raptors started with a training camp at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers and then went to Disney a few weeks later - because virus and travel rules would have kept them from getting their team together in Canada.
And now they are on their way back to the Sunshine State. The league will release the first half of the schedule around December 1st. The second half of the schedule is expected to happen in January or February, and there is a chance the team could - for now, at least - be returning to Toronto around that time.
"So we will be away from our homes and our fans for the time being," Ujiri wrote in his statement. "They say absence makes the heart beat faster. I'm not sure if that's possible for us - we love Toronto and Canada and." We know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I'm going to ask you to cheer us on from afar and we look forward to the day we are all together again. "
The Raptors remain in the Atlantic Division of the NBA. Assuming the Raptors play all 36 home games in Tampa this season, seven teams - Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Orlando, Charlotte, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia - will be there twice. The other 15 teams in the league will all go there once.
The plan for the Raptors to get to Sunrise, about 30 miles north of Miami, was also well advanced. The team had made several arrangements with the NHL Panthers, including sharing the club's practice facility. Other US cities known to have had interest in serving as temporary homes for the Raptors include: Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; and Kansas City, Missouri.
The Canadian government turned down the Blue Jays' request to play in Toronto this year because health officials didn't think it was safe for players to travel back and forth from the US, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus to travel. The number of cases in both countries, particularly the US, has risen sharply since then.
Failing to convince the federal government to grant exemptions, the Blue Jays played home games in Buffalo, New York this year. The Canadian government has requested a comprehensive public health plan and written support from local health authorities. The plan has been reviewed by the Canadian Public Health Agency.
Other Canadian pro teams also had to look for alternative arrangements: the country's three Major League Soccer teams all had temporary homes in the US this season, and one idea for the NHL this season is to have all seven Canadian teams in one To have division.
And Friday's news came hours before the announcement that Toronto would be locked again due to a coronavirus surge. The provincial government of Ontario announced that Toronto and the suburb of Peel Region will be closed starting Monday - which will restrict eating, shopping and other events. The stricter measures come as Ontario reports 1,418 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 393 in Toronto.
Reynolds reported from Miami.
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