Toronto Raptors to Start Season in Tampa Due to Coronavirus

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Amalie Arena

The Toronto Raptors are heading south for the winter.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri announced on Friday that the Canadian team will make its home base in Tampa, Florida, to begin the upcoming season due to restrictions in the country over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena,” Ujiri said in a statement. “These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward.”

But Ujiri said that “ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.”

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This means that the Raptors will call the Amelie Arena home, at least for now, while non-essential travel between the United States and Canada is on hold. The team will remain in the Atlantic Division.

The Amelie Arena is home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, whose captain Steven Stamkos joked about the Raptors’ move on Twitter Friday with a play on the Canadian team’s slogan “We the North.”

“‘WE THE SOUTH,’ ” Stamkos wrote.

Ujiri said that the organization is committed to continuing to work with public health and government officials to plan “for a safe return to play in Toronto,” as well as “doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.”

Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Scotiabank Arena

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“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Ujiri concluded his statement. “I’m not sure that’s possible for us — we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I’ll ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again.”

The United States is currently leading the globe in cases of COVID-19, with more than 11.8 million, while Canada has seen more than 315,000 cases, according to data from the New York Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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