The Toronto Raptors begin the 2020-21 NBA season in Tampa, Florida, the team said in a statement Friday.
The Raptors were unable to reach agreement with the Canadian government on a plan to play their home games at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the team plays its games at Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
An official familiar with the government’s decision told The Associated Press on Friday that too much COVID-19 is circulating in the United States to enable cross-border travel that is not essential.
“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal levels to ensure a plan that enabled us to play our 2020-21
“Ultimately, the current public health situation that Canadians face, combined with the urgent need to decide where to play, means we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.”
Raptors and the NBA needed an exemption from a requirement that anyone entering Canada for non-essential reasons must isolate themselves for 14 days. The border between the United States and Canada remains closed for non-essential travel.
The Canadian government had reviewed a proposal from the NBA and the Raptors. The team had said it was necessary to know this week with training camp less than two weeks away.
The official told The Associated Press that there is a chance the decision could be reviewed at some point next year.
Steven Stamkos, captain of Stanley Cup champion Lightning, welcomed his new neighbors on Twitter with a play on the NBA team’s well-known slogan.
“VI SYDEN” 😂 https://t.co/hVHlJKItrh
– Steven Stamkos (@ RealStamkos91) November 20, 2020
Ujiri said the birds of prey will continue to work with the Canadian government on a plan “for a safe return” to play in Toronto.
“So we are away from our homes and our fans for now,” Ujiri said in the statement. “They say absenteeism makes the heart grow better. I’m not sure it’s possible for us – we love Toronto and Canada and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. So far, I will pray you to rejoice for us far away, and we look forward to the day we are all together again. “
The Canadian federal government rejected a request from Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays to play in Toronto this year because health officials did not believe it was safe for players to travel back and forth from the United States.
The Blue Jays instead played their home games in Buffalo, New York, this season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.