Japan's pro baseball, soccer eyeing league games without fans for 1st time
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- After their sixth liaison meeting to discuss coronavirus countermeasures, Japan's pro baseball and pro soccer establishments began talking Thursday about playing official games behind closed doors.
"I believe we cannot avoid opening play without fans in the stands," Nippon Professional Baseball's commissioner Atsushi Saito said following an online meeting of NPB's 12 teams.
The chairman of Japan's pro soccer J-League, Mitsuru Murai, said holding games behind closed doors was now an option that must be considered when the season resumes.
Both establishments agreed they would not hold any games while Japan is under a state of emergency, which was expanded nationwide on April 16 and is scheduled to be lifted on May 6 at the end of the Golden Week holiday period.
The J-League's top-two divisions have been suspended since February, when the government asked sports and event promoters to refrain from drawing crowds in order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Following that request, NPB continued playing preseason exhibitions behind closed doors. At that time, both the J-League and NPB were not considering playing official games behind closed doors.
If NPB manages to open its season this year, it will not take place until June at the earliest. The pro baseball season was originally due to start on March 20, before being rescheduled for April 10 and then April 24. On April 3, baseball clubs continued their strategic withdrawal, scrapping plans to open this month.
After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures on April 7, NPB secretary general Atsushi Ihara said his organization would announce a revised schedule between the end of April and early May.
Last Friday, NPB canceled the 18 interleague games from each team's schedule and said it would aim to start sometime after May.
While the number of new daily infections in Japan continues to increase, pro baseball in Taiwan began play on April 12 in empty stadiums, and South Korea will soon follow. The Korea Baseball Organization announced this week that its season will open on May 5.
Another liaison conference will be held on May 11 after the government analyzes the effects of the emergency declaration, and a decision will be made on how to move forward from there.
"In these dark times, everyone has a strong desire to bring baseball, one of Japan's national sports, to peoples' homes," Saito said.