Monday, January 17, 2022

Feds call off Raptor season in Toronto over US travel, quarantine concerns

The PHAC memo, written in November 2020, clarified that the biggest sticking point for health officials was the plan for Raptors players to travel and then return to their private homes.

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OTTAWA — The federal government downplayed the NBA’s COVID-19 plans over fears that Toronto Raptors players would spread the virus upon returning from a US road trip, according to a memo on the decision obtained by the National Post.


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Most of the 2020 season in professional sports leagues was delayed or canceled due to the pandemic. The NBA and NHL closed in March 2020 and ended the remainder of that season in a rigid bubble.

But for the 2020/2021 season both leagues were expected to resume regular play to some extent. The NHL moved all Canadian teams to the same division to virtually eliminate cross-border travel and put in place other testing and quarantine measures that are still in place.

The Raptors are the only NBA team from Canada that they have no choice but to travel to the US, which would have been difficult to manage under Canada’s then-quarantine rules, which required all returning passengers to isolate for 14 days.

The Raptors wanted an exemption in the national interest from the quarantine rules the government had issued to allow people to skip the mandatory quarantine in rare cases.


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In a memo to then-Health Minister Patty Hajdu, written just before the decision in November 2020, the public health agency laid out its issues with the Raptors plan, which involved extensive cross-border travel.

“The proposal would allow repeated travel across the Canada/United States border to facilitate game play,” the memo said.

The note emphasizes that the Raptors will have to travel to the US ten to 12 times during the season and that 29 US teams will travel to Canada.

It reported that the government had granted exemptions in the national interest for the NHL and Major League Baseball, but those teams were not considering cross-border travel.

The memo also clarified that the biggest sticking point for public health officials was the plan for Raptors players to travel and then return to their private homes.


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“While the Toronto Raptors will play many games in the United States, all players will be required to live within private residences in Toronto or surrounding areas,” the memo said. “They will be able to have regular contact with and see their families interacting with the community. This presents concerns about limiting community exposure.”

The agency also reported that Ontario health officials were against exempting raptors.

The Toronto Raptors play the New Orleans Pelicans at Amalie Arena, their adopted home venue, on December 23, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
The Toronto Raptors play the New Orleans Pelicans at Amalie Arena, their adopted home venue, on December 23, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Kim Clement-USA TODAY Sports

With Toronto out as a possibility, the Raptors moved their home games for that season to an arena in Tampa, Florida, before returning to their home turf this past fall.

When the move to Tampa was announced, Raptors president Masai Ujiri said the government had “reasonable talks” with the team, but ultimately did not find a solution.


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“We found strong support for the protocols that we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play, means we are going to play in Tampa. will begin its 2020-21 season in the U.S.,” he said in a statement.

The PHAC memo, written in November 2020, highlighted that the US was battling the pandemic and that traveling was a public health concern.

“The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States remains worrying and is expected to worsen,” it said. “The NBA’s decision to travel teams to and from the United States poses a public health risk to Canadians.”

The note noted that it would be extremely difficult to ensure that teams arriving in Toronto were adhering to the quarantine, but even if it could be done, teams would still visit the US where the rules were not as strict.


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“The Government of Canada cannot enforce strict quarantine behavior or behavior of these teams while they are in the United States.”

The Toronto Blue Jays played their home matches in Buffalo, New York until 2021. In the memo as well as an email about the Raptors’ status, Cindy Evans, a vice president of the Public Health Agency, said they had to have a consistent policy.

“The current state of the outbreak in Canada does not bode well and is worse than when we made the decision on baseball,” she said. “An affirmative decision may now undermine the seriousness of our other public health advice.”

All major sports leagues dealt with COVID-19 cases during the 2021 season and have seen a surge in new cases during the latest Omicron wave.

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