Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League will explore the possibility of raising the current caps on attendance, a process that will include consultations with an epidemiologist, among others, the two leagues announced following the latest meeting of their joint COVID-19 task force on Monday.

According to NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito, two experts who study large-gathering events and an epidemiologist were included in Monday’s meeting.

The task force’s medical panel didn’t go into detail about the suggestions the trio raised during the meeting. Mitsuo Kaku, who leads the medical panel, said the task force had already been exchanging data with experts who study large gatherings.

Kaku said the panel had been given a hypothetical case in which a 60,000-seat venue was filled to capacity. Data from the case, he said, indicates that if those in charge of venues follow COVID-19 precautions, the risk of infection could be lowered.

He stressed that NPB, the J. League and other circuits have to move cautiously in regard to relaxing the limits, which cap attendance at half of a venue’s capacity. Kaku was uncertain about whether or not organizers of large-scale events should try to go beyond half-capacity in the near future.

But the specially-appointed infection control and prevention professor at Tohoku Medical Pharmaceutical University added that it’s necessary to take steps toward a return to normalcy.

“Some events (where loud cheering isn’t expected) have gone over 50 percent (of capacity), but there is cheering in sports,” Kaku said during an online news conference. “As long as spectators make sure to wear masks and not cheer loudly, I think attempting to go over the 50-percent mark is necessary.

“Educating visitors would help to lower the spread of the virus when the number of fans is increased. For example, when the percentage is 75 or 85 percent, what are the risks? Although there isn’t much time left in the seasons (for both NPB and the J. League), we would like to continue monitoring and having discussions about it.”

There have been fans at baseball and soccer games who have not followed the guidelines laid out by the leagues and have been doing things such as cheering loudly. On Sunday, J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai criticized those who were booing and whistling in the stands at Saitama Stadium 2002 that day.

Murai said, however, he does not believe the earlier relaxing of the attendance cap was connected to instances of fans failing to follow the rules.

“We’ve had discussions for seven months, since early March, and worked on protecting our league, clubs and players, and also our sporting culture while learning about the coronavirus,” Murai said. “But we would like to continue to increase our knowledge from the standpoint of large-gathering events and epidemiology so that we will be able to host our events as safely as possible.”

Hiroshige Mikamo, another member of the medical panel, insisted that the efforts carried out by the task force would provide valuable information for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“We’re going to work with these experts and discuss what we should do next year,” Mikamo said. “And I’m expecting we’ll exchange positive discussions.”

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