The Toronto Raptors will start the upcoming NBA season based in Florida after the franchise failed to agree a deal with Canadian authorities over Covid-19 protocols, team officials said Friday.
A statement from Raptors president Masai Ujiri said the 2019 NBA champions would start the new campaign at a temporary home in Tampa to sidestep the thorny issue of quarantine controls between Canada and the United States.
The Raptors had been scrambling to broker a solution to the issue of where they will play in the 2020-2021 season, with the December 1 start of pre-season training camp less than two weeks away. The new season tips off on December 22.
Although the Raptors would have been free to travel in the US, the team would have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine whenever they returned to Canada.
US teams visiting Toronto for games would also have been subject to the measure.
“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena,” Ujiri said in a statement.
“These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.
“We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto.”
The Raptors’ logistical headache mirrored the problems other Canadian sports teams in North American leagues have faced since competitions resumed after a Covid-19 shutdown earlier this year.
In baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays were forced to play their regular season games in Buffalo, New York, while Canada’s Major League Soccer teams were required to play regular season fixtures in the United States.
The Raptors’ decision comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in the United States, where new infections have averaged out at 167,400 per day this week. The United States has the world’s worst Covid-19 death toll, with more than 253,000 fatalities from 11.8 million cases.