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NPB and J. League join forces to combat COVID-19

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League, two of Japan’s biggest professional sports circuits, will form a tag team amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the two entities announced in a Tokyo news conference on Monday.

On Tuesday, the two leagues will officially launch a joint task force to counter the impact of the virus that has spread across the nation, forcing the cancellation of some sporting events, the suspension of others and even the decision of a few to play behind closed doors.

NPB had decided to host all its spring games without any fans, while the J. League has postponed all its matches since last Wednesday in a measure that will continue until at least March 15. NPB’s regular season will kick off on March 20.

The new task force will include a panel of experts consisting of three medical advisors, including its chairman Mitsuo Kaku, who serves as a specially appointed professor of medicine in the department of infection control and laboratory diagnostics at Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University. The panel is expected to publish a written opinion regarding virus containment measures around mid-March.

NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito admitted that cooperating with what some might consider to be a rival league may be an “exceptional” action. But he added that it was “inevitable” for the two entities to seek the opinions and analysis of medical experts in order for their leagues to resume normal activities.

“As someone at the helm of a sports organization that is supported by so many fans and oversees all our 12 clubs and their players, coaches and staff, with fan safety and avoidance of mass infection (our priority), we intend to overcome this difficult situation by teaming up with the J. League,” Saito said.

J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai said that his league reached out to NPB and the baseball organization “gladly” accepted the formation of the task force.

Both leagues insisted that while they would communicate with each other closely, any final decisions, such as when to fully resume their competitions, would be made on their own. Saito said the task force intentionally selected experts from outside the world of sports so that they would be able to provide objective perspectives.

Murai noted that while human lives are the top priority of both leagues, he believes that sports have the potential to encourage the public, adding that physical activity can give participants a certain sense of euphoria and raise their immune strength, thus contributing to their overall health.

Murai said it would be important to analyze the virus and its social effects “from various angles.”

“With just us, just (as a soccer league), there is a possibility that we could make prejudiced decisions,” Murai said. “That is why we reached out to people who are associated with the baseball league who could give us this opportunity.”

Although the task force will consist of the two leagues, insights from the panel will be made freely available to other sporting entities, including amateur sports organizations.

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