Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League are happy they’re now able to let more fans attend their games, but that doesn’t mean the two leagues are letting their guards down in the fight against COVID-19.
During a meeting of their joint task force Monday, both leagues said they would remain vigilant in order to safely complete the remainder of their respective 2020 campaigns.
The government on Saturday relaxed its restrictions on attendance at large-scale events, including sporting events, permitting organizers to operate venues at up to half-capacity after previously setting a limit of 5,000 people.
Increasing the number of people at games will make it more difficult for fans to follow social distancing guidelines in the stands. The leaders of the two leagues acknowledged the need to make sure fans understand the rules that will be in place.
“With all the support and effort, from ourselves and others surrounding the leagues, we’ve been allowed to operate our stadiums at 50 percent (capacity),” said NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito in an online news conference after the meeting. “Now it’s important for us not to relax our efforts.”
The task force’s medical panel emphasized the effectiveness of wearing masks in minimizing the risks of spreading the new coronavirus.
Since it will be harder for fans to maintain the proper social distancing of one meter or more, the panel is strongly recommending the use of masks.
Mitsuo Kaku, the infectious disease expert who leads the panel, said there weren’t many researchers who study the risks of infections in large gatherings and that there isn’t yet sufficient evidence on which to base judgments. He said the medical panel was in contact with some of those researching in the field and would share what it learned with the leagues.
The task force said it would continue to ask fans to refrain from cheering loudly and shouting in order to curb the spread of droplets.
According to J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai, the panel advised the leagues to think carefully about selling alcohol, which could lead to more people speaking in loud tones.
“We’d like to consider their recommendations on a step-by-step basis,” Murai said.
Saito said the most important thing fans could do to help was follow the rules that are in place.
“Those who are coming to the stadiums are those who love the game of baseball,” Saito said. “We’d like to let them know this is the greatest support they could give us toward completing the season at the end of November.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers have taken notice of the task force’s work as well. NPB secretary-general Atsushi Ihara said the leagues sat down with Olympic and Paralympic organizers last week to share details about how they’ve been operating during the pandemic.