Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League on Tuesday formally petitioned Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister in charge of COVID-19 countermeasures, to request a relaxation of current attendance limits at professional sporting events.

Under the Japanese government’s current guidelines, organizers of large-scale events can operate at half-capacity or with a maximum of 5,000 spectators. In their joint request, the professional leagues asked to raise the cap to 20,000.

The two circuits had announced their plan to send the request following Monday’s meeting of their joint coronavirus task force.

“We’ve received opinions from our medical panel that it’s time to revise (the regulations on spectator numbers),” NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito told a news conference on Tuesday. “With Japan’s hosting of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in mind, it’s important for the pro baseball and soccer leagues to demonstrate how we should cope with the virus.

“We’ve seen that our guidelines have been effective to some degree as we’ve revised them, and we think we can contribute (to the Olympics) by leading the way.”

While both leagues have welcomed fans back since early July, the attendance restrictions have many clubs struggling financially, with vendors and stadium staff also feeling the pinch.

Saito added: “It appears that what’s most effective against the virus is to avoid crowds, wash hands and put on masks. We’ll have to cope with the coronavirus by keeping up with what we’ve done. But on the other hand, our economic activities will be diminished, which would cost us a lot as a society, if we yield to the virus.

“It’s important for us to balance these factors and that’s why we’ve submitted this request along with (J. League) Chairman (Mitsuru) Murai.”

The government is scheduled to hold its subcommittee meeting concerning COVID-19 on Friday. Several local outlets have reported that the government is likely to relax its current limits for large-scale events.

Even if the government follows the leagues’ request, the two competitions will adjust their maximum attendance caps on a gradual basis, in consideration of different circumstances facing each club such as stadium sizes and seating arrangements.

“It would be difficult for us to fill 50 percent of the stadiums right away,” Murai said. “As far as we’ve calculated, it would probably be appropriate for us to start with a percentage of about 30 percent. It would roughly be 20,000 at Saitama Stadium, which can fill up to about 70,000.”

NPB and the J. League had agreed to retain current limits through September. But both Saito and Murai said both leagues hoped to be flexible.

“We don’t know when the relaxation (of the current limits) would begin,” Saito said. “But after talking to our teams, it felt like they all wanted to move forward as early as possible. Even though we will face some technical issues in terms of things like ticket sales, every club has struggled financially and we believe they would be pleased if that happens.”

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