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After prevailing through a litany of restrictions and logistical hurdles to complete the 2020 season, fans might have hoped that the J. League would have an easier time preparing for the 2021 campaign.

The pandemic had other plans. With COVID-19 still far from contained in Japan, the J. League’s offseason has been fraught with uncertainty and rattled by positive tests across more than a dozen clubs, reports Dan Orlowitz, with the state of emergency leaving players and fans in limbo.

At their joint meeting last week, Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League said they want teams to focus on making sure players and staff members don’t become infected with COVID-19 during training camps, reports Kaz Nagatsuka. No fans will be allowed at the sites for practices or games at least until the state of emergency is lifted.

Welcome Naomi Osaka | COURAGE UNITES US. | NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE
Welcome Naomi Osaka | COURAGE UNITES US. | NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE

Meanwhile, the highest-paid woman in sports is putting her cash to work — in women’s sports. Three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has become an investor in the National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage, the team said last Thursday. She joins a growing number of high-profile athletes and celebrities who are investing in the NWSL.

The same day, U.S. Soccer announced that Nadeshiko Japan had withdrawn from this month’s SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Florida, because of the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in their country. Argentina will slot into Japan’s schedule and will kick off the tournament on Feb. 18 against Brazil.

In other soccer news, Japan midfielder Yui Hasegawa is joining AC Milan Women in the Italian Serie A, Nippon TV Beleza said Friday. “I’m looking forward to playing in Europe, which has been my dream, and prove Beleza’s quality,” Hasegawa said in a statement.

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