Raptors have refused request to play home games in Toronto and will start the season in Tampa

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The Toronto Raptors will start playing in Tampa, Florida next season after their request to play home games in Toronto was denied by the federal government.A federal source with direct knowledge confirmed to CBC News’s David Cochrane that the Raptors could return to Toronto later in the season if pandemic conditions improve.

In a statement, team chairman Masai Ujiri thanked government officials for their efforts and said the team will start the 2020-2021 season using Tampa as a base. The season is scheduled to begin on December 22.

“The Raptors have worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal levels to secure a plan that will allow us to play our 2020-21 season at home and on our field at Scotiabank Arena,” Ujiri said. in the press release. .

WATCH | Raptors to start the season in Tampa:

David Cochrane of CBC News confirms the Toronto Raptors will start the next season in Tampa, Fla. After their request to play home games in Toronto was denied by the federal government. 1:56

“These conversations have been productive and we have found strong support for the protocols we offer.

“Ultimately, the current public health situation for Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play, means we will begin our 2020-2021 season in Tampa, Florida. We would like to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process and for their concern for the health of Canadians. ”

Ujiri asks fans to “cheer us on from afar”

In the statement, Ujiri said the Raptors organization will continue to plan for a safe return to play in Toronto and remain committed to promoting and demonstrating public health measures to help fight the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

“They say absence makes the heart more loving,” Ujiri said. “I’m not sure it’s possible for us – we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I will ask you to cheer us on from afar, and we look forward to the day when we all get back together. ”

The 2019 NBA champions haven’t played a home game since a 99-96 loss to Charlotte on February 28.

The NBA saw its 2019-20 season come to a halt in March due to the spread of COVID-19. It resumed on July 30 at a closed “bubble” resort at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.

The arena hosts the 2020 Stanley Cup champions

The Raptors will play in the 20,500-seat Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2020 Stanley Cup champions.

General manager Bobby Webster said the important factors in choosing a temporary home were the practice facility, medical facilities, and an arena that meet NBA standards – particularly with broadcast requirements – and which dates were available.

“And then the lifestyle matters,” Webster said earlier this week. “I think at one point we are asking people here to uproot their lives and go to a place where they could be away from their families for six to seven months. So we want to be respectful of that, and we want people to feel like we’re going somewhere where we feel safe and where they feel like they can settle down. ”

Florida has been a COVID-19 hotspot in the United States, registered 9,085 new cases on Thursday and is the third highest number of cases among states.

If COVID-19 shows signs of slowing down, and with a natural break in the season ahead during the all-star break in early March, Webster has suggested there may be “an opportunity to come back” to Toronto.

Like the Raptors, the Blue Jays called on the provincial and federal governments to play at home, but they were turned down. They moved temporarily to Buffalo.

The 2019-20 NHL season also ended in March before continuing in the plate cities of Toronto and Edmonton.

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