Japan's hugely popular baseball league could start as soon as
June after its coronavirus postponement, according to the sport's
commissioner, raising the hopes of fans.
Atsushi Saito, commissioner for Nippon Professional Baseball, met
Monday with infection experts and separately held talks with
representatives of Japan's 12 professional teams, which he said would
work towards a June start.
"The 12 teams agreed to make efforts so that the season can start in
the latter half of June, on the condition that all necessary
preparations can be made while carefully monitoring the spread of the
infection," Saito said in a statement.
The announcement on Monday evening came as domestic media reported
the baseball season, originally scheduled to open on 20 March, could
start on 19 June.
Baseball is Japan's most popular sport, with even youth leagues getting national television coverage.
Saito said it was too soon to set a date, adding that he would
monitor developments in Taiwan and South Korea, where professional teams
have returned to action largely behind closed doors.
He confirmed that the league's annual all-star games in July would be
cancelled, and it remains unclear whether some of the regular season
will have to be scrapped even if play resumes.
Japan has seen a smaller coronavirus outbreak than many parts of
Europe and the United States, with the number of recorded infections
approaching 16 000 and deaths at around 620.
But the number of infections has been falling in recent days and the
government is expected to lift a state of emergency in much of the
country this week, leaving safety restrictions in place in a few
hotspots including Tokyo.
Infection experts advising both the baseball and football leagues
have said Japan needs to ramp up testing to ensure the safety of
players, staff and communities hosting games.
Teams and officials must also receive the approval of various communities to travel in and out of their regions, experts argue.
They have also warned that Japan will inevitably see future waves of
infection, and have called on sports leagues to draw up plans for that