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MLB Blue Jays denied Toronto games by Canadian officials

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New York (AFP)

The Toronto Blue Jays will not play their 2020 Major League Baseball home games in their own ballpark after the Canadian government refused to give them a coronavirus travel exemption.

The move leaves the club searching for a place to stage 30 home games without spectators, with Toronto's season opener on Friday at Tampa Bay and the first home game set for July 29 against reigning World Series champion Washington.

The Blue Jays were given permission to stage pre-season workouts at their retractable-domed ballpark, Rogers Centre.

But having clubs from across the United States visit without two-week quarantines was too great a risk to approve, said Marco Mendicino, Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

"Regular-season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opponent teams into and out of Canada," Mendicino said in a statement.

"Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high.

"Based on the best-available public health advice, we have concluded the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians' health and safety.

"As a result, Canada will not be issuing a National Interest Exemption for the MLB's regular season at this time."

Mendicino held out hope the Blue Jays could stage playoff games in Toronto in late September and October if they advance and if the virus is less widespread in the United States.

"We remain open to considering future restart plans for the post-season should the risk of virus transmission diminish," he said.

The MLB season, shortened to 60 games per club, is finally set to begin next week in home ballparks without fans.

Canada has not opened its border with the United States and requires a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, which meant the Blue Jays needed an exemption.

- Jays respect decision -

"From the onset of discussions with league and government officials, the safety of the broader community -- our fans -- and the team remained the priority of everyone involved, and with that, the club completely respects the federal government's decision," Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said in a statement.

"Though our team will not be playing home games at Rogers Centre this summer, our players will take the field for the 2020 season with the same pride and passion representative of an entire nation. We cannot wait until the day comes that we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil."

The Blue Jays, who would be the only MLB club not playing out of their home field, reportedly have asked about using a minor-league ballpark in nearby Buffalo, New York, where the Jays' top prospects usually play.

The club could use its pre-season training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but that state has recently been the US epicenter of coronavirus positive tests.

Canadian officials did approve the National Hockey League's hub cities plan to allow 24 teams to take part in that league's restart in isolation conditions at Toronto and Edmonton.

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