OTTAWA — The Toronto Blue Jays have struck out with the Canadian government and will be forced to play outside of Canada this season.
“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,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced on Saturday.
The government said it was especially concerned the Jays would be playing in cities where the risk of virus transmission remains high. Major League Baseball’s abbreviated 60-game season has the team playing twice in Tampa Bay, once in Miami.
“I'm a sports fan, I know where they're going to play games — Florida, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Florida Marlins, look at the Atlanta team in Georgia,” Deputy Public Health Officer Howard Njoo said Friday when asked about the MLB request during a Covid briefing.
Mendicino said the government let the club know that Canada would not be issuing the league a National Interest Exemption for the regular season. “We wish the Blue Jays the best of luck,” he said.
The Jays had permission to prepare for the season in Toronto — preseason training that did not involve repeated cross-border travel.
Mendicino’s announcement noted that Canada has flattened the Covid-19 curve. There have been roughly 9,000 deaths in Canada, compared to 137,000 in the United States.
“Look where we are right now, about 300 or so cases per day, but the success that we've achieved I think is fragile,” Njoo said Friday in the context of the baseball plan. “As we've seen, it just takes a few sparks and we can easily backslide to having many more cases.”
The National Hockey League received permission to play out its season in Canada because the league has created two hub cities and will avoid cross-border travel, he explained.
The Blue Jays said fan and community safety was always their top priority and thanked all levels of government for their consideration of the plan. “We cannot wait until the day comes when we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil.”
The team said it is finalizing its plans for the season. The organization is thought to be choosing between Buffalo, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla.