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  • Tokyo 2020 'Encouraged' by Return of Sports in Japan


    (ATR) Japanese professional sports leagues proceed with Tokyo 2020 officials monitoring developments and spectator access amid coronavirus fears.

    Tokyo Dome is home to the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League. (ATR)
    Nippon Professional Baseball's two leagues, the Central and the Pacific, started their seasons three months late on June 19 and without spectators in attendance. Stadiums are expected to be opened up to fans on July 10.

    The top tier J-1 professional soccer league, which was suspended in late February after only one round of matches, is planning to restart on July 4. The J-2 and J-3 leagues are slated to return to play on June 27.

    The sporting events move forward despite a warning from Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday of a potential “large” spike in coronavirus cases. The number reached 55, the highest number in seven weeks, as Tokyo’s population of 14 million return to work following the lifting of emergency measures in late May.

    Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya was asked during a YouTube Live round table with journalists on Wednesday if a formal observation of the Japanese sporting events is being conducted by Tokyo Olympic leaders.

    “We do not have any particular plans already in place in terms of observing those two leagues and how they are operating behind the scenes,” Takaya told media.

    Tokyo Dome was sold out for Japan's games during the WBSC Premier 12 tournament in November. (ATR)
    “We saw that the professional baseball league opened just two weeks ago and news reports showing that fans were very excited about resuming the regular seasons. I have been very encouraged by these scenes in that respect.

    “Should the opportunity be realized, of course we should let media know that we are listening and learning from these two leagues.

    “This is something that professional baseball and the J Leagues are doing on their own initiative.”

    Takaya was also asked what might be ascertained from a charity international tennis event in Serbia in which world number one Novak Djokovic was among four players revealing positive cases. Djokovic later apologized and conceded that he and organizers “were wrong” to go ahead with the event this past weekend.

    While Takaya wouldn’t address the event specifically, he advised that Tokyo 2020 remains in close communication with the various international sporting federations jointly monitoring COVID-19 and health concerns surrounding sporting events.

    Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya (ATR)
    “From a sporting calendar perspective, there are already many sporting competitions scheduled including the U.S. Open starting at the end of August and the World Triathlon Series resuming in September,” he said.

    “By leveraging the existing relationships with the international federations, we are keen to learn from these events moving forward.

    “Discussions on counter-measures for the coronavirus will be starting this fall, so we are keen to shift to this phase by observing these opportunities,” he said alluding to a potential simplified Olympic Games in 2021.

    On Tuesday, Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita sent a message to his international counterparts, advising them Tokyo is gradually resuming sporting activities as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

    In a statement to the presidents of national Olympic committees and sports federations, Yamashita said: "we are slowly stepping out to restart our social lives, balancing preventative measures for COVID-19 with our daily activities.

    "The Japanese sports community is also slowly but firmly starting to move forward while evaluating the COVID-19 situation with utmost caution," the message said.

    Takaya also noted that there are no specific one year to go festivities planned by Tokyo 2020 organizers as the July 23 date approaches.

    “I don’t have any particular update since [Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro] Muto mentioned a few weeks ago – we are not planning to celebrate by having a people gathering event for the occasion of one year to go,” the Tokyo 2020 spokesperson said.

    However, Takaya noted discussions are ongoing and there could be “some kind of format mentioning this is the one year to go” which will be advised to media in due time.

    Written by Brian Pinelli with reporting from Hironori Hashimoto in Tokyo

    Follow Brian on Twitter at @Brian_Pinelli

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