Toronto Blue Jays not allowed to play games in Canada

The Toronto Blue Jays have been denied approval by the Canadian government to play in Toronto amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced in a statement Saturday that the federal government had denied the request.

“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,” Mendicino said. “Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high.

“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.”

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The team, which was informed of the decision via a phone call and had previously been given clearance by city and provincial governments to play at Rogers Centre, issued a statement saying it “completely respects” the decision.

“The safety of the broader community — our fans — and the team remained the priority of everyone involved, and with that, the club completely respects the federal government’s decision,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “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. We cannot wait until the day comes that we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil.”

Mendicino said the federal government is “open to considering future restart plans for the postseason should the risk of virus transmission diminish.”

The Blue Jays said they are finalizing plans for an alternative site for regular-season home games — possibilities include their training facility in Dunedin, Florida, or the home of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York. Both sites, however, pose issues.

Florida is one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus, and players have said they preferred to play in Toronto.

A source told ESPN’s Buster Olney that one of the primary concerns with Buffalo is the quality of the ballpark lights — which are regarded as worse than MLB standard.

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.

COVID-19 cases are surging in the United States, while Canada has flattened the epidemic curve.

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 are scheduled to start the season July 24 at Tampa Bay. Their home opener was set for five days later against Washington.

The Toronto 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.

Prior to Saturday’s announcement, there had been discussions between the Blue Jays and players about the team paying off apartment leases, housing players at the Rogers Centre Marriott and giving hardship pay of $20,000 or more, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

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