Baseball, soccer teams left in the lurch for arrival of foreign stars
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Although training camps are open and the start of their respective seasons fast approaching, many newly acquired foreign baseball and soccer players are still unable to enter Japan due to travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nippon Professional Baseball and J.League officials on Feb. 8 decided to work together and urge the central government to ease the entry restrictions and speed up the self-quarantine period.
But officials concede there is no clear solution in sight to bring their new players into the fold as long as the extended state of emergency is in effect for Tokyo and nine prefectures.
According to NPB, a total of 50 foreign players and staffers have yet to join the spring training camps because of the tightened travel restrictions and immigration control due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The J.League is scheduled to open the season on Feb. 26. But clubs are still anxiously waiting for 23 players and six staffers, including a head coach, to set foot in Japan.
GIANTS WAITING FOR 2 MAJOR LEAGUERS
Baseball teams have more time to play with until the March 26 season opener.
But many teams are waiting for the government to lift restrictions so that players who have returned to their home countries after the last season can re-enter Japan.
The Yomiuri Giants have signed two veteran major leaguers.
One is Justin Smoak, who has played for many teams including the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, and has hit 196 home runs in his career.
The other is Eric Thames, who has slugged 96 home runs in the majors, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers and other teams.
Both have yet to arrive in Japan.
In the meantime, some teams, anticipating a state of emergency being declared, had their newly acquired foreign players enter Japan sooner.
The situation varies widely depending on each team’s plans and efforts.
NPB and J.League officials held a panel meeting to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic on Feb. 8. There they agreed to ask the government to allow foreign players to enter Japan and shorten the current two-week quarantine process after entry to 10 days or so.
But NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito downplayed hopes for a quick resolution.
“It is difficult to grant special treatment to athletes under the state of emergency,” Saito said. “We have no option but to wait until the state of emergency is lifted to make a request to the government.”