The Blue Jays have been denied approval by the Canadian government to play in Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” said a statement from Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship on Saturday. “As a result, Canada will not be issuing a National Interest Exemption for the MLB’s regular season at this time.”
MLB 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 Toronto Blue Jays’ president and CEO said in a statement the club respects the federal government’s decision.
“Though our team will not be playing home games at Rogers Centre this summer, our players will take the field for the 2020 season with the same pride and passion representative of an entire nation,” said Mark Shapiro. “We cannot wait until the day comes that we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil.”
“The club is in the process of finalizing the best home location for the remainder of the 2020 season and will share an update as soon as it is available,” the team said in the statement.
The team had been given clearance by city and provincial governments to play regular-season games at Rogers Centre and was awaiting approval from Canada’s federal government.
Allowing games in Toronto would have meant frequent back-and-forth travel to the U.S., where COVID-19 cases are surging. Canada has flattened the epidemic curve.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he understood the decision.
“All governments worked well together to try to reach a positive answer on this but we all knew there was no easy answer notwithstanding the incredibly detailed protocols put forward by everyone associated with the Blue Jays and Major League Baseball,” Tory said in a statement.
The NHL has received an exemption for its restart to the season, but that was a far simpler case because the games are restricted to two hubs — Edmonton and Toronto.
The Blue Jays will be the lone MLB team not to be playing in their usual home stadium during the 60-game season, which starts next week.
The club said on Saturday afternoon it was in the process of finalizing its alternate home ballpark. Before the federal government’s decision the Blue Jays said their spring-training facility in Dunedin, Fla., was their most likely venue for games if they couldn’t play in Toronto.
However, COVID-19 has hit Florida hard in recent weeks, with some calling the state the new epicentre of the virus.
The Buffalo News reported last week that the Blue Jays have reached out to the owners of their triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y., to discuss the possible use of Sahlen Field.
The Blue Jays open their season July 24 at Tampa Bay. The home opener is July 29 against Washington.
Mendicino said the government remains open to discussion for playoff games at Rogers Centre if the risk of virus transmission diminishes.
“Canada has been able to flatten the curve in large part because of the sacrifices Canadians have made,” Mendicino said. “We understand professional sports are important to the economy and to Canadians. At the same time, our government will continue to take decisions at the border on the basis of the advice of our health experts in order to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.”
The Blue Jays received an exemption for summer 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 $750,000 Canadian ($551,000 U.S.) and up to six months in jail.