The Toronto Raptors NBA basketball team will begin its 2020-21 season at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida amid travel-related COVID-19 restrictions in Canada.

The Raptors had sought to open the season at its Scotiabank Arena home and worked with public health officials at local, provincial and federal level to make this possible.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri said that while the talks were productive, the current public health situation in Canada and the “urgent need” to determine where the team will play has led to the decision to play games at Amalie Arena. The arena has a capacity of 20,500 and serves as the home of NHL ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NBA concluded its 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex in Florida, with all games played on a single campus in a ‘bubble’ environment. For the new season, which gets underway on December 22, teams will play at their home arenas.

The Raptors are the NBA’s only Canadian team and with non-essential cross-border travel currently limited, the franchise has been forced to seek an alternative to Scotiabank Arena ahead of next month. It remains unclear how many games the Raptors will play at Amalie Arena.

“We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians,” Ujiri said in a statement.

“We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto. And as an organisation, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.”

Steve Griggs, chief executive of Amalie Arena and the Lightning, added: “We are excited to host the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena for the start of the 2020-21 NBA season.

“While we would have liked to see them play their home games in front of their hometown fans, we are pleased that they reached out to see if Tampa Bay would be interested in serving as a temporary home. It is a privilege and a great opportunity to bring NBA basketball to our community – we welcome the Raptors, their players, coaches, and staff.”

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