Toronto mayor John Tory announced on Tuesday that the city will ban all public events until June 30, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today we announced the cancellation of mass events permitted by the City through to June 30th. While the City recognizes the importance of special events and festivals to the livability and vitality of the city, protecting the health and safety of residents is of primary concern. pic.twitter.com/m6xcS70Gyn
— John Tory (@JohnTory) March 31, 2020
June 30 is a full three months away, but the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Toronto, with 793 confirmed cases of the virus. Toronto is the first North American city to cancel public events until the end of June.
So, that’s a huge deal (and perhaps a sign of things to come in many cities). And when thinking the sports world: Toronto has NBA (the Raptors), NHL (the Maple Leafs), MLB (Blue Jays), MLS (Toronto FC) franchises (along with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL).
However, David Pagnotta — Editor-in-Chief at The Fourth Period — has been told that the ban on public events “is exclusively city-led events.” A city executive from the mayor’s office told him that the ban doesn’t affect pro sports:
IMPORTANT: Toronto's ban is exclusively city-led events. This does not affect NHL/NBA/etc. from returning.
City exec of the Mayor's office told me via email, when asked if this affects pro sports:
"No, (the Mayor) was speaking City permitted events like parades and festivals." https://t.co/pwlgcjW0OB
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) March 31, 2020
Still, it’s hard to see this not having an impact on pro sports in Toronto. The following was included in Tory’s statement on the city’s decision:
“The city’s decision provides clear direction to event organizers to enable them to make sound decisions in support of public health efforts and their decision needs, access insurance, support impacted employees and manage sponsors.”
The empty stadium idea will be suggested (and it may happen everywhere, for a while), but bringing full teams to a location that’s severely concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak comes across as reckless.
Putting aside the game setting, there are the travel, commuting, and lodging concerns as to potential exposure to COVID-19. Keep in mind, stadium employees are also needed to make it all work sufficiently, along with any media outlets covering or broadcasting events. It’s not like we’re talking about just two rosters and coaching staffs, and umpires/referees to think about with these decisions. You don’t just teleport these teams to a stadium and say, “Play ball!” There are a lot of people involved here.
And what if a league chose to play in Toronto, only to have somebody infected with COVID-19? That would be an absolute mess for the league.
So, if we have pro sporting events before June 30 (which is a big “if” right now), it would seem likely that they won’t take place in Toronto. If that’s the case, where would the Toronto teams play their “home” games? That’s a question we can’t answer right now, of course. But in the Blue Jays’ case, spring training facilities in Florida (the Blue Jays’ spring training home is in Dunedin) or Arizona would make sense- if those locations are even cleared for action.