J. League back to playing footy sans fans

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Japan J. League Image: J. League

After a four-month hiatus due to the global outbreak of the dreaded COVID-19 disease, Japanese football’s J. League top division resumed on Saturday. All 18 J. League teams were in action, and the nine games were played sans fans.

The two biggest sports leagues of Japan are now back in action, with the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) – highest level of baseball in Japan – restarting in June.

The J. League is the top professional soccer league in Japan and one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football.

Japan has been largely successful in arresting COVID-19, although last week there was a spurt of cases in the Tokyo area. Japan has so far reported fewer than 1,000 deaths from the deadly virus in total in a population of 126 million.

A full slate of nine J. League matches was played on Saturday. For now, matches are being played as closed door events, except for 25 journalists being allowed per match. From July 10, the league hopes to begin admitting a maximum of 5,000 fans per match. Masks have been made mandatory for fans and shouting has been prohibited while at the games.

The second- and third-tier leagues, J2 and J3, resumed last week. The J1 and J2 were suspended in February after one round of matches. The J3 had not kicked off.

The J. League season is scheduled to finish on December 19. The top domestic cup competition, the Emperor’s Cup, is to run from September 16 and the final will be held on January 1. The domestic league cup competition, the Levain Cup, will begin on August 5, with a shortened format.

There will be no relegation in the league this year as a measure to help clubs trying to come to terms with the economic impact of COVID-19.

Sports marketing agency Dentsu announced a slew of new international media rights deals for the J. League last week. The league has agreed to a special extension of its title sponsorship deal with the Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Company for this season.

Though it was expected that fans would be allowed in Japan stadia gradually later this month, but the same could be delayed with Tokyo reporting a steady rise in COVID-19 cases recently.

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