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Report: Raptors plan on welcoming full capacity crowds back to Scotiabank Arena

It feels like it’s too soon. Is it too soon?

Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Our friends at the Toronto Star are reporting that both the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs expect Scotiabank Arena to be at full capacity when the upcoming NBA and NHL seasons kick off. With vaccines mandated for every person in the arena (expect players, of course) MLSE expects the arena to be safe from the still-present danger of COVID-19.

The only thing they’re waiting for: The official OK from the province of Ontario.

(The Maple Leafs aren’t even letting that stop them; they’ve already started selling full capacity seats for preseason games, promising refunds if they don’t get provincial approval.)

On the one hand, this is good news. It’s a sign of return to normalcy, for one thing, and for another, it’s sure to be a boost to the teams to finally be back playing in front of full crowds for the first time in more than a year-and-a-half.

On the other hand… part of me finds this terrifying.

Maybe I’m just being overly cautious, or maybe the pandemic has just made me even more leery of crowds in general (I’ve never loved big crowds). But this just feels… too soon. Too uncertain.

For one thing, while I am 100% in favour of the arena’s vaccine mandate, they’ve yet to release a single shred of information on how they’re going to confirm vaccinations or enforce the policy. (And the first Leafs exhibition game is this weekend!)

We still don’t have our (begrudgingly) promised provincial vaccine passport here in Ontario, and I’m not holding my breath for our government to get its sh!t together and roll it out anytime soon. Which means Scotiabank Arena will likely be using PDF the government sent you to confirm vaccinations. Which is a document that that literally anyone with a computer can forge. That’s not great! MLSE also says it will continue to require masks at all venues, but good luck enforcing that with 20,000 people.

Beyond that, we know that COVID-19, especially the Delta variant, is still transmissible, even amongst the fully vaccinated. Your chances of serious health issues or hospital stay if you’re vaccinated are only about 1% which, is fantastic (yay science!), but we should still be doing everything we can to limit the spread of the disease, until it’s gone. How many people will leave Scotiabank Arena and then be in contact with someone who isn’t vaccinated or is otherwise more vulnerable?

I’m certainly not saying we should never bring arenas back to full capacity. But surely a gradual approach would make more sense? 50% capacity for the first four weeks, 75% for the next four, then 100%? Be sure that it’s safe, give enough time to see if extensive transmission occurs?

It definitely makes me less interested in going to a game. And not just because of the size of the crowd, either. We all know how contentious the Coronavirus is as a subject, how tense and on edge it makes everyone. What if the person sitting next to you refuses to wear a mask and starts telling you that COVID is fake? What if you hear the guys in the row behind you joking about how they faked their vaccination record? I feel like I would be on edge the whole time and wouldn’t enjoy myself. And since MLSE certainly isn’t going to be reducing ticket costs, it feels like a lot of money to spend to face that level of stress.

And ultimately that’s what this comes down to, right? The money. If sports teams can sell a few more tickets, safe or not, to make up some of the money they lost last year, you can bet they will.

It’s certainly up the individual fan if they want to attend a game in person; we all have the power to assess the risk and make decisions for ourselves. For me, I feel certain it’s going to be another few months before I’m comfortable buying a ticket and attending a game amidst a full capacity crowd.