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Leaders of Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League spoke out against the discrimination of COVID-19 victims and their families following a meeting of the two leagues’ joint task force on the global pandemic.

Earlier this month, the J. League first division’s Sagan Tosu became the first club in either circuit to be designated as having suffered a cluster infection. Unlike cases of infections at other clubs, Tosu declined to identify its infected players, citing concerns over their privacy and the risk of discrimination.

Speaking in an online news conference following the task fourth’s 14th meeting on Monday, participants urged the public to understand that anyone could be infected with the virus no matter how many precautions are taken — by either an individual or an entire team.

“It was the head coach (Kim Myong-hwi) who tested positive first, but he was very careful about things such as not going out to eat,” said Hiroshige Mikamo, one of the core members the task force’s medical panel, in reference to the Sagan case. “That means anyone could get infected and that’s why measures about preventing infection are important.”

After the cluster broke, Tosu President Minoru Takehara said that it could have happened at any team, but received backlash from media outlets that raised concern over the team’s handling of the outbreak.

But in response to that, both NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito and J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai warned that blaming someone who has been infected with the coronavirus is not constructive toward aiming society in the right direction amid the pandemic.

Murai acknowledged that Sagan staff and their family members had been targeted with comments urging them not to leave their homes.

“I don’t believe those people say things like that out of ill will but they do so out of fear (of the virus),” Murai said.

“Anyone could get infected with it tomorrow, even if the person lives cautiously. We were advised (by the medical panel) that we, as NPB and the J. League, must deliver the message in order to take those prejudices out of our society. What we need to do is to tell the truth and to say, with the cooperation of NPB, that it could happen to any club, anywhere.”

Saito took an even stronger tone, saying that nothing positive would come out of discriminating against those infected.

“If the sports world commits mistakes (in preventing infections), then you have to adjust them, correct them,” Saito said. “There might be cases where some teams don’t follow the rules. But there is no perfect human being. What we have to do is make sure you do the best we can and the media are a part of that society. We would like to send that message by cooperating with Chairman Murai.”

In the case of infection, both circuits will decide whether or not to proceed with games based on their own guidelines and protocols, rather than rely on local health centers to determine how many people working within the team had been in close contact with infected parties.

Mikamo said that the two leagues’ criteria for contact tracing infected people are stricter than those of public health centers.

“With that being said, we would like people to understand that we’ve done things very strictly,” the Aichi Medical University professor said before adding that the guidelines and protocols intended to prevent infections are not perfect and require regular revisions.

“Even when we prepare manuals and guidelines, sometimes infections happen in hospitals. And after that we come to realize we could’ve done this or that better,” Mikamo said. “But it’s important to improve those measures. What I often say at conferences is that the manuals and guidelines are meant to be developed. You have to make them better to lower the risk. You don’t expect zero risk, but have to work to get closer to it.”

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