Raptors to start 2021 in Tampa Bay

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The Canadian government denied a request by the NBA and the Raptors to play in Toronto amid the pandemic, and the team says it will start the season next month in Tampa, Florida.

``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,'' the team said in a statement Friday.

An official familiar with the federal government's decision told The Associated Press there is too much COVID-19 circulating in the United States to allow for cross-border travel that is not essential.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity and not authorized to talk publicly about the matter, said there's a chance that at some point next year the decision could be reviewed.

The Canadian government had been reviewing a proposal from the NBA and the Raptors. The team had said it needed to know this week with training camp less than two weeks away.

The Raptors and the NBA needed an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must isolate for 14 days. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel.

The federal government denied the Blue Jays' request to play in Toronto this year because health officials didn't think it was safe for players to travel back and forth from the U.S., one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases in both countries, but particularly in the U.S. has surged since.

The Toronto Blue Jays failed to persuade the federal government to grant exemptions and played home games in Buffalo, New York, this year.

The Canadian government required a comprehensive public health plan and written support from local health officials. The plan was reviewed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Team president Masai Ujiri released a statement:

“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. 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. And as an organization, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

So, we'll be away from our home and our fans for now. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I'm not sure that's possible for us — we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we'll look forward to the day we are all together again."