Virus Forces Japan Baseball to Ban Fans From Preseason Games

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TOKYO (AP) Japan's professional baseball league says it will play its 72 remaining preseason games in empty stadiums because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus.

The regular season is to open on March 20.

The virus that began in China is disrupting all of the country's sports schedules and has raised concerns about the Tokyo Olympics. They are to open on July 24 followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25.

Representatives of the baseball league's 12 teams made the move at a special meeting on Wednesday.

“This was a bitter decision to make,” Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted Commissioner Atsushi Saito as saying. “Because we can't determine the situation, I won't say anything right now about (opening day). “If possible, we all want to go ahead on March 20.”

Japan's top soccer league, the J-League, has also halted all play until March 15.

Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus outbreak. China has reported more than 2,700 deaths, and China is the host nation for the 2022 Winter Olympics.