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COVID-19: Toronto FC to become first pro sports team in city to welcome fans after move into Step 3

A day after Ontario moves into the much-anticipated Step 3 of the provincial COVID-19 reopening plan, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the Toronto FC will welcome soccer fans at BMO Field for the team’s first game in Canada in nearly a year.

For the first time since September, Toronto FC will be facing off at its home stadium in the city’s downtown against Orlando City SC at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

According to a statement issued by the team Wednesday afternoon, 7,000 fans made up of frontline health care workers, emergency crews and season seat holders will be allowed to attend.

Read more: Toronto FC to remain in Orlando until games at BMO Field are possible

“It has been a long, hard time on the road due to pandemic protocols and we have greatly missed the energy and support of our fans at BMO Field,” Bill Manning, president of Toronto FC, wrote.

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“Our return to Canada gave the team an incredible boost this week and we look forward to an emotional night at BMO Field with our fans on Saturday.”

The statement said the team returned to Canada on Thursday after beginning its season at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. In total, four matches were played there.

There will be a suite of public health measures at BMO Field, including the use of hand sanitizer and keeping the venue cashless.

According to a statement issued by Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s office Wednesday evening, Major League Soccer hasn’t received a national interest exemption (NIE) that would provide an exemption to federal quarantine requirements. But it noted a review is underway.

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“The [NIE] protocol has been used to provide exemptions to mandatory quarantine requirements for a number of professional sports leagues. In each case, the government has worked closely with provincial and municipal partners to ensure that leagues have implemented rigorous health protocols to protect the health and safety of all Canadians,” the statement said.

Despite the ongoing review, it noted a slight easing of border restrictions on July 5 allowed for fully vaccinated travellers to enter Canada without having to complete a 14-day quarantine. Foreign professional athletes are included under the current rules so long as they have valid work permits and meet all other requirements, such as pre- and post-arrival COVID-19 testing. Anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated will need to abide by the two-week quarantine.

Read more: Ontario to enter Step 3 of COVID-19 reopening plan on July 16, days earlier than expected

A spokesperson for Toronto FC wasn’t immediately available for comment Wednesday evening when asked about the statement from Hajdu’s office.

Under Step 3 of the Ontario government’s reopening plan, which comes into effect on Friday, up to 15,000 spectators or 75 per cent of the usual seating capacity are allowed at outdoor sports facilities.

The Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed 550 fully vaccinated health care workers during a May game at the Scotiabank Arena as part of the NHL Playoffs, but Saturday’s Toronto FC game will be the first major professional league game in the city after the move into Step 3.

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The Toronto Blue Jays are currently seeking a NIE from the federal government, which is responsible for decisions relating to quarantining and the border, to hold home games at the Rogers Centre.

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