Minister announces acclerated framework for return of professional sports

Empty stadium at Rogers Centre. (Photo courtesy of Toronto Blue Jays via Twitter.)

Whether the Jays and Raptors can start playing games at home again may depend on what the federal government says, but the province has released a framework that could see a return to play.

Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Lisa MacLeod announced today 18 leagues in six sports could start playing games so long as they get their public health unit’s approval. Players would also have to adhere to mask-wearing, cohorting, and other restrictions.

MacLeod said her government has been working closely with the professional hockey, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, football, and baseball leagues to find a way to return to play without compromising measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, she was not sure if cross-border leagues, like the Ontario Hockey League, would be able to bring teams from Michigan into Canada for games. Only the federal government can approve that.

“The OHL will have to present their return to play [plan]. I haven’t heard what their most recent iteration would be. It’s likely a showcase,” she said. “If players would cross the border, that would be up to the federal government to allow them too. If they’re already in Canada, I think they wouldn’t have to deal with the quarantine as well as the federal legislation.”

For football fans, teams like the Tiger-Cats and the Red Blacks could start practicing in August.

MacLeod hopes the return to sport moves quickly.

“As quickly as they can get their local buy-in, and they meet the protocols here. Many of them have been working on this for some time. So, my hope is, in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

As for when teams will play again in front of a stand full of fans, MacLeod admitted that is still up in the air. Part of the problem is it raises issues for other entertainment options.

“With what an amusement park would look like being reopened, or a tour boat operator, even with the restaurants and the retail being reopened we’re looking at capacity limits,” she said. “I think it would be safe to say, in the absence of eradicating COVID-19, we will take a measured approach.”

Monday’s announcement does not affect the plan for kids’ sports. MacLeod said those leagues would be allowed to hold drills and limited play in Step Two of the government’s three-phased plan for reopening. A full return to play is expected in August.