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The J. League will offer logistical and promotional support toward Japan’s lagging COVID-19 vaccination efforts, with at least three of its clubs’ home stadiums set to be used as mass inoculation sites later this year.

League officials said Friday that Nagoya Grampus’ Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture as well as Machida Zelvia’s Machida Gion Stadium in western Tokyo had already been selected, with Vissel Kobe’s Noevir Stadium set to be confirmed soon.

The league will partner with the National Governors’ Association in order to assist the 40 prefectures that are home to the league’s 57 clubs, offering logistical and operational support as well as promotional efforts to encourage younger fans to get vaccinated once the shots are made available to the general public.

While the vaccine is currently available only to medical professionals and senior citizens, Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi said that the J. League and its clubs would likely play a larger role when it comes to vaccinating the general public, adding that he hoped to see large numbers of fans receive their shots on match days.

“I want people to come with their game tickets and their vaccination coupons,” Iizumi said. “If 10,000 or 20,000 fans are able to come, they can all be vaccinated at once. After that they can rest while they’re watching the game.

“I think the J. League will be able to help us get through the general public’s vaccinations quickly. And if the J. League can do it, I believe other sports leagues will be able to do it too.”

Rakuten founder and Vissel Kobe owner Hiroshi Mikitani, who has been among the most vocal critics of the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout, said he was “very reassured” by the cooperation between the league and the NGA.

“The United States is aiming to hit a vaccination rate of 50% soon and they’re working to reopen their economy. … Japan is incredibly behind in comparison,” Mikitani said. “If we don’t take serious measures, how will we restart our economy?

“In America they’re not only giving out tickets to sporting events, but for example doughnut shops are giving out free doughnuts to vaccinated people. They’re not worried about their business, they understand that as a nation they have to escape from the coronavirus.

“As a businessperson, as a J. League club owner, as a citizen of Japan … I believe we require a sense of urgency, and it’s very reassuring to see this leadership from Gov. Iizumi and Chairman Murai.”

Among efforts planned by the J. League will be the recruitment of medical workers who are able to administer vaccines through team doctors’ affiliated hospitals and other institutions. CUC Inc., the medical management company that has administered the league’s coronavirus tests since last year, has also been drafted to provide support.

The league is also planning an aggressive public outreach campaign, and Iizumi said he hoped that the influence of players in particular would sway fans to sign up for vaccinations and follow anti-infection protocols that have struggled to remain effective over a year into the pandemic.

“I think people are tired of hearing these requests from government authorities and they’re no longer listening, and that’s why infections are spreading,” Iizumi said. “But if star players make those requests … they can say ‘We’re saying this for your sake.’ I think fans will respond to that, and we’ll be able to get infections under control and that will put us on the path toward vaccinations.”

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