Despite a rise in new COVID-19 cases across Japan, neither Nippon Professional Baseball nor the J. League are considering going back to playing behind closed doors, leaders from both leagues said Monday.
Both NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito and J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai, speaking during an online news conference following the 30th meeting of their joint COVID-9 task force, emphasized that course of action was not part of their thinking.
“From our end, we can’t say we want to host games without fans,” Saito said when asked if the league would consider barring fans from games should the government issue another state of emergency. “We’ve learned a lot about the disease over the last year.”
Murai echoed Saito’s sentiment. He added that the J. League has managed to host “over 1,000 games with fans” in the stands and has not had any cluster infections stemming from spectators.
“Our league and clubs, fans and public have done trial and error over the past year to help our league operations,” Murai said. “So it’s different from a year ago, and even if we enter into another state of emergency, it does not mean we won’t host fans.”
Osaka and its surrounding prefectures have seen a rapid increase in infections, many due to variant strains of the virus, and have been under a quasi-state of emergency since last week, as has the majority of Tokyo. Some of Tokyo’s surrounding prefectures, as well as Aichi Prefecture, will take the same step Tuesday.
Mitsuo Kaku, the head of the task force’s medical panel, said the world has a lot of information about the virus based on data that has been collected and that social and economic activities don’t need to be shut down completely.
Kaku, however, added Japan will need to carefully monitor the rapid increase in infections due to variant strains, which are said to cause severe symptoms in some cases and can put an extra burden on the medical system.
Hiroshige Mikamo, another member of the medical panel, said whether or not sports leagues can continue to operate with fans will depend up the efforts made by the public.
“Both NPB and the J. League have created elaborate guidelines,” Mikamo said. “But when the public gets used to the coronavirus, carelessness can lead to generating more infections. This is what was mentioned during today’s meeting and I do agree with that. Hopefully, we will continue to cooperate and help the leagues complete their seasons.”
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