J. League

J1 game postponed after more infections found at Grampus

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff writer

The J. League on Sunday postponed a scheduled first-division game between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Nagoya Grampus after two more positive cases of the new coronavirus were discovered in the Grampus camp.

Nagoya announced on Sunday morning that midfielder Shuto Watanabe as well as an unnamed staff member tested positive.

They were among 60 players and staff given polymerase chain reaction tests on Saturday after defender Kazuya Miyahara tested positive on Friday evening.

The decision to postpone the match, which was scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. at Edion Stadium in Hiroshima, was made after officials determined they would be unable to verify the identities of anyone who had close contact with Watanabe or the staffer before Sunday evening.

According to the J. League’s coronavirus-related guidelines, players may not be registered for a matchday squad if they are established as having had close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

“It’s difficult for a club to name 14 players (the minimum required under league guidelines) without knowing if there were close contacts, so Grampus held discussions with the league,” J. League chairman Mitsuru Murai told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference on Sunday morning. “We determined that there were a lot of risks to naming a squad without knowing that situation, so we postponed today’s match as a result.“

While Miyahara had reported a fever of 38 degrees on Friday morning as well as a headache, neither Watanabe nor the staff member reported symptoms.

According to statements by the club, none of the three who tested positive reported any travel outside of training, matchday activities or essential shopping over the last two weeks. All are currently confined to their homes.

“We believe the club took all of the proper precautions,” Murai said. “After Miyahara’s positive test, the club had everyone tested.

“We anticipated that there would be asymptomatic infections. That’s why we’re testing everyone in the league. Even when people are asymptomatic they can still spread the virus.”

Watanabe is the fourth Grampus player to have been infected with the coronavirus since it spread to Japan. Striker Mu Kanazaki and goalkeeper Mitch Langerak were infected in early June; both made full recoveries and have participated in several J1 games since the top flight resumed on July 4.

Following Kanazaki and Langerak’s positive tests, Grampus took a number of measures including regular disinfection of training facilities.

“The players have to wear masks all the time and wash hands regularly,” Grampus president Koki Konishi said. “They’re not supposed to eat out or invite guests. The two who tested positive have reduced their external movements as much as they could.

“We are following the J.League’s protocols. We have to maintain everyone’s health and the players are doing their utmost to prepare in order to deliver their best possible performances. That’s our mission as a club.”

According to Grampus officials, 16 players and one team staffer traveled to Hiroshima via shinkansen and charter bus on Saturday. Murai defended the decision, saying that Grampus has done its due diligence.

“Even though the club had not determined close contacts, all of the players (who went to Hiroshima) tested negative so I don’t think you can call the decision irresponsible,” Murai said. “I think all possible precautions were taken in using public transportation and the club met its obligations.”

The postponed game’s rescheduled date will be announced at a later point by the league.

The joint coronavirus task force formed by the J. League and Nippon Professional Baseball is scheduled to meet on Monday, when it is expected to review government recommendations to extend current restrictions on stadium attendance through the end of August.

Attendance is presently capped at 50 percent of venue capacity or 5,000, whichever is smaller. That restriction was scheduled to be relaxed on Aug. 1, before an increase in coronavirus infections across Japan raised concerns over clusters emerging from larger crowds in stadiums and concert venues.

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