After voluntarily putting itself on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japan's sports world was dealt another setback after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures on Tuesday to curb an alarming rise in infections.
The declaration, which is effective through May 6, creates more roadblocks for two of the biggest professional establishments in the country, soccer's J-League and Nippon Professional Baseball, whose 2020 seasons have been derailed by the virus and will likely have to be shortened.
The J-League, which halted matches in late February, just after the start of the top two divisions, finds itself in particular danger since it has many second- and third-tier clubs on weak financial footing that are finding it hard to cope with a substantial loss in revenue.
Before Tokyo saw a steep climb in infections late last month, J-League first-division matches had been set to resume on May 9. The second division was to resume a week earlier, while the third division, which had yet to kick off its season, was to begin on April 25.
(J-League Chairman Mitsuru Murai speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on Feb. 25)
Now those dates are a "blank page," with indefinite postponement looming until the threat of virus abates. The league is also under pressure to decide whether to scale back its league cup tournament, the YBC Levain Cup.
But most importantly, the J-League has a lucrative deal with the sports streaming service Dazn and needs to deliver league matches as stipulated in their contract.
That contract went into effect in 2017 and is worth about 210 billion yen ($1.9 billion) over 10 years, with the expectation that all seasons would be fully played.
The league's clubs agreed late last month that at least 75 percent of total matches, as well as at least 50 percent of fixtures for each team, must be played for the season to be considered complete. They also agreed there would be no promotion or prize money if the minimums cannot be met.
J-League Chairman Mitsuru Murai denies for the moment that the postponement has resulted in any financial loss, but some of the league's executives are wary of "dangerous waters."
If matches cannot be held and the league loses a main source of income, there will be J2 and J3 clubs that will be denied their working capital. The J-League is still in a position to help out those ailing clubs, but should the contract with Dazn -- currently the foundation of its business -- be affected, the entire league could collapse.
On Wednesday, Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima, who himself had been infected with the new coronavirus, asked athletes to embrace their roles as citizens first and warned the crisis would exact a large financial toll on money flowing into sports from the business world.
Tashima said the JFA plans to "help out J-League and local clubs and coaches who lose their jobs and are ready to take out loans from banks."
In his role as Japanese Olympic Committee vice president, Tashima warned that the sports world should not count on getting less sponsorship money than anticipated.
"This is going to be hard on businesses, too," he said. "There's no reason to think we're going to get the funds we had been expecting."
The JFA has postponed the start of the 100th edition of the Emperor's Cup, which had been set to open on the weekend of May 23. Olympic soccer training camps scheduled next month at the J-Village training facility in Fukushima Prefecture were canceled as well.
As for Japanese pro baseball, with Opening Day still not fixed, NPB's future is looking more and more opaque. The season's 143-game schedule will inevitably have to be shortened, even without the mid-season interruption, which would have been caused by the Tokyo Games being rescheduled for next summer.
And if that results in a huge drop in revenue, players' annual salaries, which cost each team several billion yen, will weigh heavily on all 12 clubs. In that case, NPB would need to consider giving players partial compensation during the postponement as Major League Baseball is doing.
NPB had anticipated the emergency declaration and still plans to announce its new schedule between the end of this month and early May. Both the Central and Pacific leagues played most of their preseason games behind closed doors while hoping to open on March 20 as originally scheduled before Opening Day was pushed back.