As leagues, cities, provinces and states continue to try to figure out the fate of sports and what they might look like in the weeks and months ahead, Toronto mayor John Tory joined Writers Bloc on Friday to discuss some of the latest updates from his perspective.
During the appearance, the mayor cautioned that it might still be a few more months until sports are played in Toronto — even without fans.
“I would just say to people, don’t hold your hopes out that you’re going to see professional sports played in Toronto, even in front of an empty stadium, before sometime into the fall,” he said.
Tory said he’s spoken with several of Toronto’s sports leaders over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, including Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, and Toronto Maple Leafs brass, at various points throughout the pandemic.
“On the basketball front, there really hasn’t been any sort of specific discussion with us about how you would play games in front of no fans and make sure you complied with public health,” said Tory, who said discussions with Ujiri centred mostly around practice facilities.
On the NHL front, Toronto was floated as a possible “hub city” for NHL games should the league resume playing in 2019-20, but Tory said any talks with the Maple Leafs didn’t extend beyond initial conversations.
“They described to us about how that would work with teams staying in hotels and going back and forth in busses and all of this, and we’ve really not heard much more about it,” Tory said. “Suffice it to say, in respect to a lot of things, we are not contemplating any situation in which there would be large crowd scenes.”
Earlier Friday, the City of Toronto announced the cancellation of city permits for events with more than 250 people until July 31 — a ruling that puts the Honda Indy in jeopardy — while events with more than 25,000 people will be cancelled through Aug. 31.
Tory told Writers Bloc that when it comes to the thought of hosting sports in Toronto, the idea of “crowds” doesn’t just apply to fans in the stands, but to players and staff deemed essential to games.
“We haven’t been asked to come to grips with that, just because nobody’s asked,” said Tory. “Nobody’s said, ‘Okay, we are going to be a hub, we’re going to play these games here. What are the rules gonna have to be in order to keep everybody safe?”
Tory said that while it’s ultimately not up to him — any decisions made will be made by official health authorities — he would not say no to a proposal that complies with proper physical spacing, testing, and quarantine rules.
“In Toronto, in stadiums, even without spectators, there’s probably a way to work it out – subject to all those questions that I asked earlier about contact between players, size of teams, arrangements on the bench,” he said. “As time goes on, if you were saying ‘OK, in September there’s a chance we could have some of that,’ I would not say no.”