The Japan Professional Football League (J-League) today (Wednesday) held its second emergency meeting in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and announced provisional dates for all three tiers to resume league matches.

The league is now aiming for the third tier J3 League to resume on April 25 while the second division (J2) would resume from May 2 if everything goes according to plan. The top flight J League Division 1 (J1) is expected to require a further week to prepare and is scheduled to resume from May 9.

The league last week held a web conference with the clubs and issued a statement saying that it was hoping competitions would resume on April 17 or May 1, hinting that the J3 and J2 seasons will end with no relegation, only promotion to J2 and the top flight J1.

Their hopes were quickly extinguished this week, however, after the Japanese government recommended to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo should be postponed to 2021. The league also learned since last week’s decision that it would take at least few days for each home team’s match operations staff to learn how to effectively use the thermometers and disinfectant products that the league is going to provide.

Mitsuru Murai, the J-League chairman, admitting that a phased approach for the resumption of the league matches is required, said: “It does take few days for the stadium staff to familiarise themselves with the new thermometers to check the spectators’ body temperature so we have decided to resume our league competitions in phases, with the J3 League, with less number of spectators expected, being the first competition to resume.

“The experience and knowledge gained in the J3 League operations will be analysed and passed on to the operation teams involved in the subsequent J2 and J1 matches.

“Wherever our league matches are held, we expect fans and supporters to travel from all over Japan meaning if they are infected during a match, they could potentially spread the virus all over Japan. We will iron out the details soon but the plan is to ask away fans who would have to travel a long distance to not attend away matches for two months. The league could also ensure away seating sections would be closed for a certain period of time.

“Even for home seating sections, we discussed that reserved seats could be sold in such a way so that ticket holders are placed separately from each other. We are looking at a capacity rate of around 50% at each stadium so we will have literally half-empty stadia.”

The wider capital metropolitan zone which consists of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama has 13 J-League clubs and as the number of infected in Tokyo has started to rise, there is already a worrying sign that even this half-empty stadia policy may not be enough and matches around the capital will have to be held at empty stadia if they ever take place.

Murai added: “We have set April 25, May 2, and May 9 for the J3 League, J2 and J1 respectively, and clubs will prepare accordingly for now but we do realise that the situation may deteriorate dramatically as the clock ticks away.

“So as soon as we receive requests from the government or relevant prefectures/cities we will quickly look into possible alternative scenarios, be it going ahead with matches at empty stadia or rescheduling the fixture altogether.”

A total of 314 matches have been affected by the league’s postponement so far but as the special summer break originally scheduled for the Olympic and Paralympic Games is no longer required, the league is confident that all matches can be completed over successive weekends and mid-week matchdays before the end of this year, should they be able to resume on the dates set today.

Matches for the YBC Levain Cup, the league cup, are also expected to be completed before the end of the year as Matchday 1 had already been played in mid-February before the competition was postponed soon after.

The Japan Football Association meanwhile announced yesterday (Tuesday) that the J1 and J2 teams will join this year’s 100th edition of the Emperor’s Cup competition from later rounds amid concerns the J-League clubs will be extremely busy playing their league matches almost every week.

The governing body announced last week that their chairman Kozo Tashima was infected with COVID-19 after attending the 44th Ordinary UEFA Congress in Amsterdam earlier this month.

Article provided by The Stadium Hub