Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League hosted the seventh meeting of their joint COVID-19 task force on Monday morning, with neither league making any concrete announcement regarding when games will be played.
One thing that is known, however, is that there will be no NPB All-Star Series this year. That decision was reached in a meeting with NPB and club representatives later Monday afternoon. The league is hoping to begin its season in mid-to-late June.
The Japanese government extended its state of emergency, which was originally scheduled to be lifted May 6, until the end of the month, and the task force’s medical panel on Monday morning advised the leagues that it would be difficult to set dates for their respective campaigns under the current circumstances.
The panel also advised the leagues that while the declining number of new infections is a positive, the task force should take the possibility of a recurrence into account.
Speaking at an online news conference following the meeting, which was held via video conference, Mitsuo Kaku, who heads the medical panel, acknowledged that the virus situation has begun to settle down to the point that pro sports are returning in some parts of the world. Kaku added that Japan’s leagues would need to remain vigilant even after getting underway.
In Asia, Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League and South Korea’s Korea Baseball Organization have both opened their seasons. South Korea’s pro soccer circuit, the K-League, has also begun play.
In Europe, German soccer’s top-flight Bundesliga will resume its season in empty stadiums on Saturday.
The U.S.-based UFC hosted a mixed martial arts event on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, and has two planned for this week.
“Obviously, if the situation improves, and the state of emergency is lifted on the 31st, we can start moving toward discussions about (how to resume) team practices, preseason games and the start of our season,” said NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito.
Saito denied reports that emerged prior to the meeting suggesting NPB was looking to begin its season as early as June 19.
“As I’ve repeatedly said, we will only try to get ourselves ready for when the situation improves, so that we can host (our season),” he said. “And when I say get ourselves ready, that refers to — I believe it’s the same for soccer — the physical preparations of the players, preparations for playing in games. They would need a certain number of weeks to prepare. We need sanitary preparations as well. We would have to proceed with all those simultaneously.”
Local media had also reported that NPB had come up with a plan to group each league’s teams in a centralized location, with Tokyo and Osaka being the candidates, to reduce the risk of infection from traveling.
While Saito didn’t dismiss the possibility, he added that his office has not “discussed the matter yet.”
On Sunday, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said that the government is looking into lifting the state of emergency before May 31 in many of the 34 prefectures that were not among those hit hardest by the virus.
Kaku said it would be necessary for the task force to create guidelines for how the leagues should respond in the event of infections that occur after their seasons resume. The panel already put such guidelines forward in early April, but Kaku hinted that they would need to be updated to reflect the current situation.
Former J. League player Ryuji Bando, who is participating in the meetings in his role as a specially appointed member of the league’s board of directors, said players are hoping they can all be given PCR tests upon their return to the pitch, according to J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai.
Murai, however, said the J. League isn’t considering the possibility while many in the general public have not been able to be tested. At the same time, he is optimistic about the government’s consideration of an antigen test, which would make it possible for the public to be tested in less time than a PCR test would require.
Both NPB and the J. League held their own meetings with their club representatives later in the day. NPB officials have also decided to hold an meeting with team owners on Tuesday.