TORONTO, ONT – The Toronto Blue Jays won't find out by this weekend whether they will get permission from the federal government to play in Canada soon, a government official familiar with the talks told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
A team spokeswoman said the club continues to work with the federal government toward playing games at Rogers Centre starting July 30, and expected to receive a response by Friday.
But the government official familiar with the talks said the Blue Jays will not learn whether they will get to play in Toronto by the weekend. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no one has been authorized to discuss the talks publicly.
The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel. Major League Baseball will require an exemption for non vaccinated players and team staff to play games in Canada. As of last week, fully vaccinated athletes in MLB who have valid work permits are no longer required to a 14-day quarantine upon entry into Canada, but teams have players that are not vaccinated. A quarantine exemption and the protocols around that need to be worked out.
Another official familiar with the talks reiterated the team is expecting an answer Friday based on conversations with the government and said that is the club's breaking point time wise. The official noted the team has a long homestand starting July 30 that represents over 25% of the remaining games at a crucial juncture competitively. The Blue Jays are tied for third in American League East standings.
A third official, who spoke on background as they were also not authorized to speak publicly, said it would be preferable to have lead time in order to move what the club needs from Buffalo and prepare for Toronto operations, including ticket sales, although they've begun preparations at Rogers Centre in Toronto already.
If the Blue Jays are not given an exemption for the 10 game homestand that begins July 30 the next homestand begins August 20. Approval could come amid a federal election that's widely expected to be called next month. Providing exemptions for travel into Canada is politically sensitive. Non essential fully vaccinated Americans and foreigners remain barred from entering Canada as the government works to get a high percentage of Canadians fully vaccinated by the end of July.
The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo and started this season in Dunedin, Florida, before moving to Buffalo. The Canadian government didn’t allow the team to play at home in Toronto because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, citing frequent travel required in the U.S. during a baseball season
Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.
Blue Jays ace Hyun-Jin Ryu signed with the team before the 2020 season and has yet to pitch a game in Toronto.
The team noted in a release this week that Major League Baseball has high vaccination rates, with more than 85% of players and personnel fully vaccinated. The club said vaccinated players and staff on the home and visiting teams will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test with no quarantine requirement; and that fully vaccinated individuals will also undergo weekly testing.
The team said unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals on the home and visiting teams will adhere to a modified quarantine for their first 14 days in Canada. They will be permitted to leave their residence only to participate in baseball activities at Rogers Centre.
In Major League Soccer, Toronto FC and Montreal have been given the green light to play at home this weekend, with a limited number of fans in the stands.
Toronto will host Orlando City on Saturday and the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday at BMO Field, while Montreal will entertain FC Cincinnati on Saturday at Saputo Stadium. The Vancouver Whitecaps will play “home” matches on July 17 and July 20 in Sandy, Utah, as conversations continue with the Canadian government.