Despite the the T. League being forced to open its third season behind closed doors due to COVID-19, officials are hoping to continue to expand the table tennis circuit’s fanbase.
The T. League will begin its 2020-21 campaign on Tuesday with the Kinoshita Meister Tokyo, the two-time reigning men’s division champions and Nippon Life Red Elf, the reigning women’s champions, both in action.
The Meister will face the Ryukyu Asteeda at 2 p.m. while Red Elf will take on Kinoshita Abyell Kanagawa at 7 p.m.
The league had to stop the 2019-20 season prematurely in March because of the pandemic, with Meister and Red Elf, then leading their respective divisions, crowned as champions.
“We are still in a very difficult citation regarding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Ichiro Hoshino, the league’s chief director, said during an online news conference on Thursday. “And along with other sports leagues, our league’s 2020-21 season wasn’t able to start on time. Thankfully, we will end up opening the season with remote matches in November.
The league will hold all 45 matches scheduled this year without fans. The locations of the matches will not be announced to avoid the possibility of fans showing up at the venues. There are plans to allow fans to attend matches in 2021, as the league continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation.
Yoshihito Miyazaki, the league’s assistant chief director, said that even if a team is missing players for reasons relating to the virus, an official match can still be played if three players are available. If a team plays with two players, the match results will be deemed unofficial.
Current travel restrictions means some teams will be forced to play without foreign players, or have to wait for them to complete their quarantine periods and be cleared to compete.
The league, however, remains determined to become the world’s premier circuit.
“We set our theme — ‘Make our best-in-the-world league more accessible’ — this year,” Hoshino said. “Despite the social distancing and other precautions, we want to bring our fans closer to the league.”
Games will be broadcast online and some matches will be shown on traditional television networks.
NTT Docomo, a major mobile phone and IT company that has become the league’s top partner this season, is expected to utilize its 5G technology to keep fans engaged by presenting the action from unique angles and using computer graphics to display stats.
“I haven’t played a game for a long time, so I would like to play trying to get my feel for the game back,” Yui Hamamoto of the Abyell said in a video message. “I’ll do my best so the fans will be able to feel our powerful performances even online, not just at the arenas, in this third season.”
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