TOKYO — The opening of the Japanese baseball season is in doubt because of the outbreak of the new virus, officials said Monday, as the nation’s baseball and soccer leagues tapped three medical experts as advisers.

Baseball commissioner Atsushi Saito said protecting fans, players and coaches was critical. Preseason games are being played in empty stadiums, with a hope the regular season can begin as scheduled on March 20. But Saito acknowledged assessing whether the regular season can open – and with or without fans – is a delicate decision, noting the virus outbreak wasn’t expected to subside soon.

“That is the difficult part,” Saito said. “At this point, we still can’t say what action we will take under what conditions.”

The J-League soccer competition joined Nippon Professional Baseball in forming the panel to assess the virus outbreak. The panel, to be up and running by Tuesday, will include representatives from each of the 12 professional baseball clubs, as well as J-League representatives. It will come up with recommendations by the middle of this month, officials said.

The J-League had begun, but has suspended play. It hopes to resume on March 18. J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai said matches attract crowds and unexpected problems.

OLYMPIC BASEBALL QUALIFIER: Baseball’s final qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics has been postponed from April to June because of concerns over the virus outbreak that has infected nearly 89,000 people and caused more than 3,000 deaths, mostly in China.


The World Baseball Softball Conference announced the qualification event scheduled for Taichung and Dou Liu in Taiwan from April 1-5 had been postponed to June 17-21 because of “player, personnel and spectator health and safety measures against the spread of the coronavirus.”

The Olympics are scheduled to open July 24, with baseball set to be played at Fukushima and Yokohama from July 29 to Aug. 8.

ITALIAN CUP SOCCER: Residents of Milan will not be allowed to attend the Italian Cup semifinal match between Juventus and AC Milan on Wednesday at Allianz Stadium in Turin as part of anti-virus precautions being taken.

The second leg of the semifinals will be off limits to residents of the regions of Lombardy, which contains Milan, and Emilia Romagna and Veneto, plus the provinces of Pesaro, Urbino and Savona – the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 virus.

GERMAN SOCCER CLUB Leipzig apologized to a group of fans from Japan for what it called a mistake “on our part” apparently related to the worldwide virus outbreak. The Japanese fans were at Leipzig’s game against Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday when they spoke with stadium security staff. German news agency dpa, citing social media posts, reported they said they were asked to leave the stadium.

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