TORONTO — The Blue Jays have been denied approval by the Canadian government to play in Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced Saturday.
The Blue Jays had been given clearance by city and provincial governments to play regular-season games at Rogers Centre and were awaiting approval from Canada’s federal government.
“Unlike preseason training, regular-season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opponent teams into and out of Canada. Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high,” Mendicino said.
“Based on the best-available public health advice, we have concluded the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety. As a result, Canada will not be issuing a National Interest Exemption for the MLB’s regular season at this time.”
Major League Baseball needed an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must self-isolate for 14 days. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel until at least Aug. 21.
The Blue Jays received an exemption to be in Canada for this month’s training camp, during which the players agreed to isolate in the hotel attached to Rogers Centre and create a quarantine environment. Players are not allowed to leave the stadium or hotel, and violators face fines of up to $551,000 and up to six months in jail.
The Blue Jays were informed of the federal government’s decision via a phone call. They said in a statement they respect the decision and are in the process of finding the best home location for the season.
Mendicino said the government is open to playing postseason games in Toronto “should the risk of virus transmission diminish.”
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Friday that the regular border crossings were an issue for the government. Coronavirus cases are surging in the United States. Canada has flattened the epidemic curve.
“In Canada you’ve seen us flatten the curve,” Mendicino said in an interview with The Associated Press. “You’ve seen that cases have decreased significantly, and that is largely attributable to the sacrifices Canadians have made. We can ill afford a step back.
”We think this is the right call and it is backed by the evidence and advice of our health experts. And fans who still would like to see baseball will still be able to watch the broadcast, just from a different location.”
Njoo said the government preferred the NHL’s plan, which will see all teams gather in hubs in Edmonton and Toronto for games starting this month and not leave until their respective seasons come to an end.
The Blue Jays are scheduled to start the season Friday against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Their home opener was set for five days later against the Nationals.
Before the decision by the government, the Blue Jays had said their spring training facility in Dunedin was their most likely venue for games if they couldn’t play in Toronto. However, COVID-19 has hit Florida hard in recent weeks.
The Buffalo News reported last week that the Blue Jays had reached out to the owners of their triple-A team in Buffalo to discuss the possible use of Sahlen Field.
The Blue Jays also could seek to play games in Rochester, N.Y., home of the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, or Manchester, N.H., home of Toronto’s Double-A affiliate, CBS News reported..
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