Nippon Professional Baseball and the pro soccer J-League on Friday abandoned plans to play in April, while declining to say when their coronavirus pandemic-affected seasons could resume.
NPB is now hoping to open its regular season in late May, but for the first time decided not to announce a date following a meeting of representatives from its 12 teams.
The pro baseball establishment twice previously set dates, April 10 and April 24, that would allow the two leagues to complete a regular 143-game schedule, but Friday's decision indicated new plans would be needed.
When speaking about the schedule, NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito talked about the regular season and the season-ending Japan Series. He neglected to mention the Climax Series, the postseason playoffs to select Japan Series contestants, suggesting it could be the first sacrifice.
"We had hoped to play 143 games, but now we have to consider reducing that total," Saito said. "I'd like to prioritize the regular season, and discuss how to maintain its significance. Even if we cut it close, we can still fit in a Japan Series."
He also said the thought of playing regular season games in empty stadiums could no longer be dismissed out of hand.
Prior to their internal meetings on Friday, NPB executives and their J-League counterparts met with a panel of medical experts in the fifth sitting of the task force they jointly formed to keep abreast of the health crisis.
"At this point, April restarts would be extremely difficult," said Professor Mitsuo Kaku of Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University.
On Tuesday, the six presidents from NPB's Pacific League agreed that opening the season on April 24 would be very difficult. Friday's stance mirrors that taken by Major League Baseball, which has suspended the start of its season indefinitely.
NPB's preseason was already in full swing when the government in February suggested large-scale events should not be held in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus. From Feb. 29, all of pro baseball's preseason and practice games were held behind closed doors.
Last week, when three players of the Central League's Hanshin Tigers tested positive for the coronavirus, teams began further restricting baseball activities.
After getting under way in February, the J-League's first and second divisions suspended play following games on Feb. 23. J-League Chairman Mitsuru Murai conceded it would be difficult to go ahead with the planned start of third-division soccer on April 25, as well as the resumption of the second division on May 2 and top flight a week later.
"I think it's even unrealistic to say that we can hold games as scheduled if we don't allow spectators. Considering that we have a social responsibility to fulfill, these discussions require careful thought," Murai said.
A number of J-League players have also been infected with the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.