The Ford government says it has accelerated its return-to-play plan for professional and elite amateur leagues as the province loosens COVID-19 restrictions.
Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod says that high-level teams can now hold non-contact practice and dry-land training in Ontario.
“Our government remains committed to protecting the health and well-being of all athletes by supporting return-to-play protocols that are safe, evidence-based and gradual,” said Minister MacLeod.
“This is an important first step to getting all Ontario athletes back to sport safely, while supporting Ontario-based leagues and events that are strong local economic drivers and job creators.”
Teams and leagues will be allowed to resume games as soon as August, although there is currently no plan to allow spectators.
MacLeod says this includes the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto FC, although their ability to play teams in the United States is a federal responsibility.
“Today’s announcement is a positive step forward and builds on the work we have done with the NHL,” she said. “That means there is a path forward for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Raptors to come back home, if the federal government permits. [It allows] for our Redblacks, [Hamilton] Ti-Cats, the [Toronto] Argos, and our OHL teams, and others, given our present health conditions.”
Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro confirmed recently that talks had begun heating up with regards to a return to Rogers Centre.
“Until the border is open, there are significant challenges with us returning to Toronto to play,” said Shapiro, according to Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling.
The Canadian Football League and Ontario Hockey League are the most impacted by the decision, having missed an entire season because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A small number of professional and elite amateur sports leagues and events will be able to return to play under “stringent public health and safety protocols developed in consultation with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”
This is in advance of the broader return to play for amateur and recreational sport that will be enabled through Ontario’s reopening plan, which will allow sport and recreation to resume in incremental steps throughout summer.
As for youth sports, MacLeod says they can start dry-land training and various drills as part of Step 1, which currently allows for outdoor personal training, fitness classes, and sports training with 10 people maximum per session, each spaced 3 metres apart.
“Hopefully we’ll advance in the next couple of weeks into Step 2 in which case they can have a limited capacity of kids playing and getting back,” she said. “And then finally, in Step 3, a more advanced ability for them to play both indoors and outdoors.”
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts, and Ottawa Redblacks all have training camps scheduled to begin in early July.
MacLeod says that as long as the CFL teams meet provincial safety standards and have the approval of their local public health officials they may begin to train.
The NHL and Canadian health authorities have been working on a travel exemption that would allow the winner of the all-Canadian North Division and an American opponent to cross the border during the final two rounds of the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Final.
With files from The Canadian Press