J.LEAGUE held an extraordinary executive committee yesterday and J.LEAGUE Chairman Mitsuru Murai spoke to the media, about the further extending suspension of matches to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
““The decision was made unanimously among the committee members of 56 clubs, with premises of the statement received from experts in the governmental panel on 19th March, and advice received from the three medical experts at the liaison council with the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) held on 23rd March with regards to holding events.
Based on the statement and the advice, J.LEAGUE has agreed to “prevent further spread of the COVID-19 infection” and “cooperate with the governmental views and administrative policies”. At the same time, J.LEAGUE also agreed to continue efforts to provide the value of sports to everyone and to make necessary preparations.
At the committee today, there were 5 points of agreement, which are as follows:
(1) To extend the suspension of matches
J.LEAGUE aimed to resume on 3rd April, but it will be postponed. One reason was considering preparations to safely welcome the spectators to the venues. One of the supplies we need to secure is thermometer equipment to measure body temperature. We estimated we will need about 450 of them to cover all J1, J2, and J3 venue gates and the VIP related gates.
The equipment will be secured in phases, starting from 3rd April to 18th April. Hence, we had no choice but to extend suspension beyond 3rd April. For staff at the venues, we have 70,000 masks and 300 liters of disinfection-related items (equivalent for about 100,000 staff) already secured besides the thermometers and we expect to secure the thermometers by 18th April.
It was difficult for us to get ahead with securing the supplies in the midst of a time where the need is common to everyone in Japan. We are preparing by explaining the need in a reasonable term. Considering all the necessary supplies, we had no choice but to extend the suspension of matches.
(2) Date to resume the matches
We will have the thermometers available by 18th April, but we believe operating them will require high-quality skills. Since the measurements will be made in the open air, various factors such as wind, temperature, shade, etc. need to be considered. We believe we will need a certain time to prepare using the thermometers after we secure them on 18th April. We will aim to start J3 matches ahead of J1 and J2 matches, given the various circumstances such as the number and capacity of spectators (*1).
As we get ahead of J3 matches, all members of the J.LEAGUE will cooperate and fully support to raise the proficiency of J1 and J2 clubs to manage using the supplies. As for J2, we aim to resume on Saturday, 2nd May. As for J1, we aim to resume on Saturday, 9th May, which is after the Golden Week (*2). By taking phases to resume the matches, it will give a period of time for clubs with higher capacity to become more proficient in using the supplies. In addition, we will avoid having J1 matches during Golden Week, where a great move of people is expected.
(*1) The J3 draws smaller crowds compared to J1 and J2 and it will be easier to enforce the safety measures first.
(*2) Golden Week is a holiday season in Japan
(3) About density
Our decision is made after careful consideration of the advice received from the medical experts in holding events. The main precaution for holding an event is that (1) the event is held in a closed space and (2) in a dense crowd of people (3) who are chanting closely together. The first factor, fortunately, does not apply to J.LEAGUE matches, whereas we need to consider the remaining two factors; density and closeness.
With regards to density, it is said big events can bring people from all around the country to come, and there is a possibility a cluster of people with coronavirus go back to their homes. We are still in discussion, but we may ask people to refrain from going to away games for about 2 months after the matches resume. This is the third point we agreed on. We understand there may be spectators who come from far away to home game venues, and there may be those who live nearby to come to away game venues, but we plan to lay down specific rules such as not setting any seats to chant for the away team. This is our stance on density.
(4) About closeness
We assume to basically have spectators take a certain distance in between, with every other seat be left empty. As a result, the capacity of the venue will be 50% less than usual. We have agreed to reduce the degree of closeness by aiming to keep the number of spectators to less than 50% of its capacity. This is the fourth point we agreed on.
(5) Responding to request for voluntary restraint
We aim to resume on 25th April, 2nd May and 9th May, but we are still at an unpredictable point with the changing situation of the spread of the COVID-19. If the government or any administration requests a voluntary restraint, we will follow the request and be flexible in deciding to play the game without spectators or change the schedule. This is the fifth point we agreed on.
The above five points are the points we agreed on. One of the other points we discussed was setting basic rules of ways of cheering. For example, we discussed the possibilities to refrain from styles of cheering out loud or high-fiving and crossing shoulders. Another opinion that was often expressed was with regards to the players. The situation where dates to resume the matches were postponed again and again was making the players more difficult to keep up their condition mentally and physically. I mentioned in the past that I would be making decisions in a two-week interval, considering the government has been announcing their views in a two-week interval. However, I have decided to aim 25th April. Now with the aim dates to resume, I hope the players will target those dates to prepare their conditions.
Lastly, this was a fairly difficult decision to make. I would like to thank all the executive committee members from the 56 clubs for agreeing beyond individual interests. In addition, I would like to express my gratitude to NPB, where the decision was based on the advice of the government's expert panel and the experts who we worked with NPB. I once again feel I could not have made such a decision on my own. Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company has been very flexible and calm in waiting for our decision. YAMAZAKI-BISCUITS Co., Ltd. has not made any requests regarding the tournament format. It was all freehand and left for us to decide. Like broadcasting a training match between Kashima Antlers and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo the other day, DAZN has continued to support us, even though they may be struggling to have new subscribers. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the support, with further possibilities to broadcast more matches in April, where the teams prepare for the upcoming matches.”