Tuesday afternoon, Toronto Mayor John Torey announced the cancellation of permits for all major events through June 30. That includes festivals, parades and other large-scale, city-led events.
The question for fans combing through news clippings, hoping for the return of live sports: How does this affect the timeline for the potential resumption of the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons?
The knee-jerk reaction is to call it a major blow. That June 30 date comes after 40 previously-scheduled Blue Jays home games and would take us well beyond the previsouly-scheduled conclusion of the NBA and NHL playoffs (in which the Raptors and Maple Leafs were both locks). It's the longest a major North American city has committed to drastic, concrete social distancing guidelines — a barometer of just how murky the response, relief and recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic still is.
Important context: As of this writing, this ordinance does not directly bar the NBA, NHL or MLB from resuming play through that date. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported as much shortly after the news broke:
IMPORTANT: Toronto's ban is exclusively city-led events. This does not affect NHL/NBA/etc. from returning.— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) March 31, 2020
City exec of the Mayor's office told me via email, when asked if this affects pro sports:
"No, (the Mayor) was speaking City permitted events like parades and festivals." https://t.co/pwlgcjW0OB
Adding to this, City of Toronto's Chief Communications Officer Brad Ross told me: "Sporting events don’t require permits, but the mass gathering order was issued by the province and they would need to address that aspect."— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) March 31, 2020
ON banned gatherings of more than 5 ppl a few days ago. https://t.co/tMfa8RKcmy
Still, no major sports league should or will return before every conceivable safety clearance is met. Just because this decision doesn't directly prohibit leagues from re-assembling teams, doesn't mean it won't impact their decision-making. It will.
As will current stay-at-home edicts in the United States. Illinois' — issued by Governor J.B. Pritzker — runs through April 30. On Monday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order in his state that runs through June 10.
For what it's worth, the NBA appears motivated to somehow resolve its season at some point in the future. Recently, the idea of clustering teams and players into central, quarantined environments has been floated by prominent national reporters. Last week, Jabari Young of CNBC cited league sources in reporting that Las Vegas has been discussed as an option for such a concept.
But the logistical and emotional hurdles involved in any hypothetical return are immense. Look at the challenges Asian basketball leagues have encountered as evidence. At this point, it's impossible to say anything with even a modicum of certainty except that there is still a long, winding road ahead.
Actions like those the city of Toronto has taken underscore that point.