Tokyo: Japan's hugely popular baseball league could 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 March 20, could start on June 19.
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 eventuality.