Medical experts on Monday congratulated Nippon Professional Baseball for a successful start to its season late last week after a three-month delay, but also asked NPB and the J. League to remain vigilant against the spread of COVID-19 and continue to operate with the utmost caution as both leagues move toward allowing fans into games next month.
The two pro circuits held the 10th meeting of their joint task force on Monday, during which they were briefed by the medical experts.
“As a fan, I’m happy that pro baseball has started,” Mitsuo Kaku, who heads the medical panel, said during an online news conference following the task force meeting. “I don’t think the fans have ever anticipated the opening of a season as much as they have this year.”
The J. League will resume its 2020 campaign on Saturday, when the second division returns to the pitch and the third division opens its season. The top flight is scheduled to resume on July 4, having played just one round before the league suspended all competitions in late February.
While NPB opened its season behind closed doors, commissioner Atsushi Saito and J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai said both leagues would begin allowing a certain number of fans to attend games beginning July 10.
According to government guidelines, pro sports teams will be able to allow as many as 5,000 fans into stadiums and arenas on that date. That restriction is scheduled to be relaxed in August to half of a venue’s capacity.
Saito, speaking after a meeting of NPB representatives, was uncertain if 5,000 fans would be allowed into stadiums, adding the number would depend on the team and the local government.
Both leagues remain concerned about the possibility of players and team staff becoming infected with the coronavirus while being asymptomatic. Saito said NPB would remain in contact with the Japanese government about the matter.
The medical panel stressed that returning to play was just the beginning and both leagues would have to keep their guard up to prevent further infections.
“We’ve just taken off,” said Kazuhiro Tateda, an infectious disease expert and Toho University professor. “We are going to have to keep our eyes on how safely the leagues will be able to conduct their seasons this year. We’d be happy to support them as much as possible over the course of the process.
Tateda added there is a high probability of infections being found via NPB and the J. League’s mandatory PCR testing and said how the leagues deal with such cases will be important.
“Both NPB and the J. Leagues are two sports that represent Japan,” said Tateda. “So they have to get off to a good start in order to become role models for other sports.”
Kaku stressed that even after fans return to venues in July, they can’t expect to cheer in the ways they’re used to, such as by singing and cheering. He’s asked them to establish a new style of cheering.
“That (making adjustments to lower the risk of infection) will mean they support NPB and the J. League,” Kaku said.