New Zealand

NPB and J. League hope to lead by example with Tokyo Games on horizon

The members of the joint task force established by Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League hope to set a positive example for this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics by safely holding large-scale sporting events.

The latest meeting of the task force took place on Monday, the first day after the lifting of the state of emergency for Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures. The meeting was the final gathering before the start of the NPB season on Friday. The J. League kicked off in late February.

With the state of emergency lifted, many NPB and J. League teams are planning to relax current limits on attendance and allow up to 10,000 fans to watch games.

“This is the time when the organizers are about to take steps toward the Olympics,” J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai said during an online news conference following the meeting, referring to the Olympic torch relay, which will begin on Thursday.

“What we can do is show that there won’t be significant risks for spectators watching baseball and soccer games. We don’t have any other way to cooperate with the Olympics and Paralympics. We just have to go ahead with what we’ve already done.”

The task force’s medical panel is also planning to observe Japan’s upcoming international men’s soccer matches.

The Samurai Blue will face South Korea in a tuneup at Nissan Stadium on Thursday and face Mongolia in a World Cup qualifier at Chiba’s Fukuda Denshi Arena on March 30.

Japan’s U-24 team will face Argentina’s U-24s in a two-game exhibition series — with matches on Wednesday and March 30 — in Kitakyushu.

“Depending on the results (from the testing of players and officials from those events) it could help pave the way (for the Olympics and Paralympics) by proving contests can be held safely,” said Mitsuo Kaku, the head of the medical panel.

“And it could prove that they can host games as long as they make sure they prepare the proper protocols. There was an international gymnastics event in Tokyo last year, but this time it’ll be a team sport. So we would like to see how the organizers operate their events.”

The medical panel also analyzed a research paper from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science that was made public on Sunday.

The paper assessed the risks of coronavirus infection for the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony — under the assumption 60,000 spectators would be present. The team behind the paper tried to estimate the potential number of new infections by running simulations under different conditions while considering what measures may be put in place.

In their simulations, the team considered seven possible and pragmatic measures: 1) physical distancing of spectators at entrances and exits, 2) decontamination of surfaces in concessions, 3) enhanced stadium air ventilation, 4) partitioning of spectators in the stands, 5) making face masks mandatory in the concourses, restrooms and concessions, 6) hand washing with soap in restrooms, and 7) wearing hats or other headwear in the stands.

The assessment stated that implementing all seven measures would result in a 99% drop in the risk of infection as opposed to applying none at all.

The task force members, meanwhile, are concerned about different variants of the virus coming into Japan, which could cause problems and put an extra burden on the medical system.

“We and (NPB and the J. League) officials recognize that we need to prepare proper testing systems for the athletes in the near future as well,” said Hiroshige Mikamo, another member of the medical panel.

The other issue the task force took up was the many import players who have not yet been able to enter Japan due to travel restrictions.

After a meeting of the 12 club representatives on Monday afternoon, NPB general secretary Atsushi Ihara said each team would submit an infection prevention guide for its foreign players and ask the government for exemptions to allow them into the country.

Ihara also said, however, that the league does not expect the exemptions will be granted “right away.”

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