NPB puts Opening Day on hold

Nippon Professional Baseball postponed the start of its 2020 regular season on Monday after an emergency meeting of the 12 teams’ representatives, commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

“How must we (pro baseball) act? We must protect the players, staff, families, but no one more so than the fans. We must protect the cultural legacy of pro baseball. That is why we made this decision,” Saito said.

Earlier, Saito said delaying the start the regular season was “unavoidable at the present stage” because of the risk that playing games in front of crowds will increase the rate of new coronavirus infections in Japan.

Opening Day was set for March 20, but it now appears that it will be put on hold until the middle of April. The last disruption this large came in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami devastated areas of northeastern Japan and triggered a nuclear meltdown north of Tokyo. That season was delayed for two weeks.

NPB executives and their counterparts from Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, met with public health experts, who explained the risks.

“We can’t play games in the current situation, where for every one person in a large crowd, two to three more will likely become infected,” he said.

“If you have games you have to make a maximum effort. If you don’t have the ability to measure body temperatures, disinfect the stadium and equipment and so on, then you can’t be said to be doing your best.”

Since Feb. 29, all of NPB’s preseason games have been played behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the government, while urging that people and institutions take the threat of infection seriously, has put its head in the sand about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, scheduled to open on July 24.

Former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, the head of the local organizing committee said, “It is impossible that the games will not go ahead as scheduled.”

When senior IOC member Dick Pound suggested that alternatives plans might somehow be necessary, Japanese lawmakers began hyperventilating, screaming for the heretic’s head.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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