As Ontario takes steps toward reopening its economy, the prospect of professional sports’ return to the province is nearing.
The Blue Jays have received municipal and provincial support on a return to Toronto this summer, according to a source. An application to the federal government has been submitted for approval, which could see the team returning to the Rogers Centre as early as July 30. That would mark the beginning of a 10-game homestand for the Jays, who have yet to announce where those games will be played.
A return on Aug. 20, the beginning of Toronto’s following homestand, is also a possibility.
News of the organization’s proposal, first reported by Sportsnet on Sunday evening, came shortly after Toronto FC president Bill Manning said his team will return home on Thursday, following Wednesday night’s match at the New York Red Bulls. Manning said the club, currently based in Orlando, is able to return home because travel restrictions are being loosened for people who are fully vaccinated.
Manning said he hoped the Reds would be granted approval to host Orlando City SC at BMO Field on July 17, but TFC had yet to receive an official go-ahead. The club won’t be returning to its previous adopted home at Exploria Stadium in Florida, though. Manning said there is another U.S.-based option, if needed.
In May, the City of Toronto cancelled all major in-person events through Sept. 6, but that decision did not extend to professional sports, which rely on permission from the provincial and federal governments in addition to Toronto Public Health.
The Maple Leafs, for example, played regular-season and playoff home games in their home city between March and May, albeit in a North Division consisting solely of Canadian teams that was organized as a result of the travel restrictions that have been in place since March of last year between Canada and the U.S.
The third round of the NHL playoffs earlier this month was considered a first step to allowing an opposing team across the border. That’s when the Canadian team that won the North Division, the Montreal Canadiens, came up against an American team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, for the first time this season.
Immigration minister Marco Mendicino issued a “national interest” exemption for the Golden Knights, and later the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, that allowed all three teams to cross the Canada-U.S. border with a modified quarantine. NHL players and team personnel entered and left the country using private planes, were subject to pre- and post-arrival testing in addition to daily COVID-19 tests and had to live in a modified quarantine bubble that included the team hotel and the arena, among other rules.
A statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada in May said the federal government was open to reviewing proposals from professional sports organizations “that include a comprehensive public health plan agreed to by the Government of Canada and written support from provincial or territorial public health officials in jurisdictions where the events would occur.”
The statement said the government understands professional sports events are important for Canadians and to the economy, but to resume they must adhere to Canada’s measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, Canada began loosening travel restrictions that have been in place for nearly 16 months. Fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents — those who have had a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada — are now able to skip the 14-day quarantine.
The Blue Jays proposal will have to account for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people associated with their organization, as well as the travelling teams visiting Canada. Data released by MLB and the players’ union late last month said 85.4 per cent of Tier 1 individuals, meaning players, managers, coaches, doctors, trainers and strength and conditioning staff, are fully vaccinated.
Specific details of either the Jays or TFC’s plans were not immediately available, though Jays president Mark Shapiro previously said it would take three weeks to a month to move the team from Sahlen Field in Buffalo back home to the Rogers Centre.
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