The B. League assembled its players for an online meeting on Monday to raise awareness of the challenges players will face while contesting the upcoming 2020-21 season in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The men’s pro hoop circuit also revealed the guidelines and protocols that will be put in place to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“We all knew that we wouldn’t be able to expect to play as smoothly as we would in normal years,” Sunrockers Shibuya guard Leo Vendrame said in an online news conference following the meeting. “But (today’s meeting) helped us pay more attention to the coronavirus and understand how we’ll cope with it when we play.”
Acknowledging the league will not be able to completely eliminate the risk of infection, officials emphasized players should not feel guilty if they contract COVID-19.
“We’ve seen on the news that famous people have been infected and they have taken responsibility in public,” Hiroshima Dragonflies guard Ryo Tawatari said. “But the chairman (Shinji Shimada) told us that we wouldn’t have to feel that way and it makes us feel we’re protected by the league. So that was a reassuring message.”
The league will tip off its fifth year in early October.
Shimada, who assumed his post as the second chief of the four-year-old B. League in early July, said that while the league would have to make sure it provides safety and security, it also shoulders the responsibility of energizing the sport’s domestic presence, in terms of both the league itself and other events.
“Our philosophy is that of energizing Japan through basketball,” Shimada said. “And if we can do things well, it will help Japan host (other basketball tournaments such as) the Emperor’s Cup and Winter Cup, and even the (Tokyo) Olympics. So we want to work on things responsibly while providing that energy.”
The B. League’s anti-coronavirus guidelines and protocols are similar to the ones implemented by Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League, which kicked off their seasons in June after getting advice from medical experts who contributed to the two leagues’ joint task force.
Players and teams will have to follow what have become standard protocols in the sports world, including daily temperature checks and activity logs. Protocols for infections and team activities such as travel between venues are also outlined.
B. League players will be required to undergo a PCR test every two weeks during the season.
The league, which finished its fourth season behind closed doors, plans to allow its clubs to fill up to 50 percent of their arena capacities in line with current national guidelines regarding large-scale sporting events.
Shingo Kazuno, the league’s director of the competition operations, said the league would make adjustments to the guidelines, which were written by the league’s internal task force, as necessary.
For example, the guidelines currently state that teams may host home games even when they have infected players if both teams can secure at least eight healthy players for the contest. But officials said they could revise those rules later to include contact tracing protocols in line with similar rules followed by NPB and the J. League.
In March, a pair of games were called off right before tipoff after players and a referee were found to have fevers. Less than two weeks later, the league decided to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Shimada said that going forward, the league should not cancel games based on emotional appeals from the public and that the competition should go ahead when possible.
“We know we will have people infected, but we are going to have to discuss what we’d do when we have people who are in close contact with the infected persons,” he said. “Obviously, we need to communicate with medical institutes, experts and health care centers. But we are going to make our own judgment criteria, and we are currently discussing how much we need to consult with the health care centers (for contact tracing).”
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