Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League held their first joint COVID-19 task force meeting of 2021 on Tuesday and received advice from the body’s medical panel as the two leagues prepare for their respective spring camps amid a new state of emergency in parts of Japan.
Tokyo and the neighboring Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba Prefectures entered the new state of emergency on Friday and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that the order will be expanded to include Osaka, Hyogo and Aichi Prefectures.
The target date for lifting the state of emergency in Tokyo is currently Feb. 7. Some J. League teams are set to begin their training camps later this month while NPB camps are scheduled to start Feb. 1.
While many teams — in both leagues — hold their camps in the warmer climates of Okinawa and Miyazaki Prefecture, the state of emergency could still affect their plans.
The medical panel said teams should still be able to relocate to those southern locales — as long as they implement countermeasures against the virus — unless local governments are reluctant to host them.
“We are in a difficult situation with the state of emergency, and infections have risen in camp sites like Okinawa and Miyazaki,” Mitsuo Kaku, the head of the medical panel, said during an online news conference after the meeting. “The most important thing for the leagues is to understand what the situation is in those places and confirm whether or not they can host the camps. If the cities and prefectures think it would be too difficult to host teams, then they should avoid it. However, we think they can proceed with their camps by carefully preparing protocols and countermeasures.”
NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito and J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai said their leagues are moving forward as scheduled.
“At this point, we’ve been talking with local cities in Okinawa and both sides have agreed to start the camps from Feb. 1 and are exchanging opinions about what we should do (to secure safety),” Saito said. “It’s hard for us to think about major decisions like canceling or postponing the camps. But if it becomes a situation the local side can’t handle, we’ll certainly speak with them and think about what we need to do.”
Hiroshige Mikamo, another member of the medical panel, stressed that players won’t be able to start their seasons without adequate time to prepare.
“If the schedules of the camps are pushed back, it will affect the seasons and they might have to reduce the number of games and things like that again,” Mikamo said. “So looking ahead for their seasons, they have to host their camps this time of the year. We are not considering the postponement of the camps. We talked about what we need to do so the teams can have their camps safely and that was the focal point of our meeting.”
Kazuhiro Tateda, another member of the panel, said if NPB and the J. League, two of Japan’s biggest leagues, can’t conduct their seasons safely then there is “no way” the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics could be held this summer.
“Both NPB and the J. League will have to provide proof during their seasons this year so they can be role models (for other sports leagues and events),” Tateda said.
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