Victoria organizers request 10% capacity for Olympic basketball qualifying tournament

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics basketball qualifying tournament from June 29 to July 4 have requested 10 per cent spectator capacity at 7,400-seat Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre when provincial indoor restrictions are relaxed July 1. They have yet to hear back from the provincial health office.

It is part of the current surreal fan-scape of sports, in which the European soccer championships are being played in stadiums ranging from 22 per cent to 100 per cent full.

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London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Seville, Rome and Bucharest are allowing 25 to 45 per cent capacity, Munich 22 per cent, St. Petersburg and Baku 50 per cent and Budapest 100 per cent.

The Montreal Canadiens, among the first Canadian sports entities to welcome back fans during the pandemic, have allowed 2,500 fans in the 21,273-seat Bell Centre for NHL playoff games since May 28. That represents only 12 per cent of capacity, but the Montreal fans have been loud beyond their numbers. Victoria organizers want to give the Canadian basketball team the same sort of lift.

The Habs have asked for an increase to the 2,500 fans number for its Stanley Cup semifinal series against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, but as of Saturday had not heard back from the Quebec health department, which is considering the request. Canada is among the most conservative nations in the reopening. The Habs will face capacity crowds of 18,149 in the games played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as vaccinated fans, cheek by jowl, have returned to full capacity in many U.S. sporting venues.

“We have respectfully submitted our request [for 10 per cent attendance] and remain hopeful,” said Clint Hamilton, chair of the Victoria organizing committee for the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament.

“We are operating in an unbelievably complex planning environment and are getting down to the wire.”

That includes the establishment of three bubbles around the Memorial Centre, the CARSA Gym practice facility at UVic and at the downtown Victoria hotel where the national teams of Canada, Greece, China, Turkey, Uruguay and the Czech Republic will be housed. Citing security, Hamilton would not disclose the name of the hotel. The teams arrive on June 25.

The planned wider festival surrounding the event — which would have included open-air concerts around town, and three-on-three and Indigenous and wheelchair basketball tournaments — will not be possible.

Victoria organizers paid $3 million for the right to host the tournament.

The Olympic qualifying tournament will operate under a similar international single-sport exemption waiver that was awarded by the federal government to the 2021 world junior hockey championship hosted by Edmonton this year in a bubble.

The Olympic hoops qualifier will be broadcast nationally across the full CBC-TV network. The winning team will advance to the Tokyo Olympics from July 23 to Aug. 8. Canada, with its so-called current Golden Generation, is looking for its first Olympic berth in men’s basketball in two decades since captain Steve Nash of Victoria led the national side to Sydney 2000.

All 14 of Canada’s available NBA players — save for injured Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Boucher — have been eliminated from the playoffs and have committed to the qualifier. The 21-player selection camp opens Wednesday in Tampa, Florida, under Canada head coach Nick Nurse.

The Victoria tournament is among the four last-chance qualifiers to fill out the final quartet of teams into 12-nation Tokyo Olympic field. The other qualifying tournaments are being held over the same dates in Split, Croatia; Kaunas, Lithuania; and Belgrade, Serbia.

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