Toronto Raptors granted government approval to play games in Canada

By Lucas Casaletto and The Canadian Press

The Toronto Raptors are finally coming home.

A team spokesperson confirmed Friday that the team had received the green light to play at Scotiabank Arena after a season spent in Tampa. Fla.

How many fans can be in attendance, however, is still to be determined.

“We are optimistic regarding our ability to host full capacity events at Scotiabank Arena,” the spokesperson said.

The Raptors will open their preseason against the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 4 – their first game at Scotiabank Arena in more than 19 months.

The Raptors announced a five-game pre-season schedule on Friday that includes two home appearances. They’ll also host Houston on Oct. 11.

“And as a reminder, all people wishing to access the arena – whether to attend an event as a spectator or as a member of the media – will be required to show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 or proof of a medical exemption,” the team spokesperson said.

President Masai Ujiri spoke openly about the commitment to get the team back playing games in front of fans in Toronto. On Aug. 5, the day his multi-year contract extension with the Raptors was made official, he said executives were working hard on making that happen.

“Home. What does home mean to you? For me, home is where it all starts,” Ujiri said at the time.

“…Toronto, you inspire me. We have missed you. We can’t wait to be back. Your resilience has been unbelievable. I know it’s been tough. You came together to fight a virus. Together, we are facing the truths of racial injustice and systemic inequality.”

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) announced last week that people attending its indoor and outdoor events must be vaccinated as of September 22.

In a statement, MLSE said it strongly supports Ontario’s vaccine certificate system and will not accept a negative COVID-19 test result “for admittance to MLSE venues or events, except for guests with a verified medical exemption.”

They add that children under 11 years old will also be exempt from the mandate. Face coverings must continue to be worn at both indoor and outdoor events.

MLSE owns the Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Argonauts and Toronto FC.

Because of Canada’s COVID-19 protocols and travel restrictions, the Raptors had to relocate to Tampa for the 2020-21 season and play home games out of Amalie Arena. They were the only team forced to relocate.

The Raptors last played at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 28, 2020. They then departed on a five-game road trip before the league shut down on March 11 after Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

The Raptors will play at Philadelphia on Oct. 7, at Boston on Oct. 9, and at Washington on Oct. 12.

They open the regular season on Oct. 20 when they host Washington.

After nearly two years as baseball nomads, Toronto’s other major sports team, the Blue Jays, returned home at Rogers Centre on July 30 with a max capacity of 15,000 fans.

The club announced that fans would need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend their home games and potential playoff games as of September 13.

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