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Japan baseball season delayed over coronavirus: commissioner

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Tokyo (AFP)

Japan's professional baseball season, originally set to open on March 20, will be postponed for the first time since the 2011 earthquake due to concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus, the league's boss said Monday.

"We have decided to postpone the opening," Atsushi Saito, the commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball, told reporters. "We aim to open it during April."

It was the latest big sporting event in Japan to be hit by the coronavirus, less than five months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Baseball is the nation's most popular sport, drawing tens of thousands of fans for each game. The league's 12 teams annually play 143 games before finals.

It is the first time the baseball league's regular season has been postponed since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that left over 18,500 people dead and missing.

The league prefers to play games in front of a crowd rather than behind closed doors, Saito said, adding: "That's our unanimous thinking."

Sumo's spring tournament began behind closed doors on Sunday, as the virus has infected more than 450 people across Japan and been linked to seven deaths.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has led to the postponement of several sporting events in Japan, raising fears that the outbreak could affect the Olympics due to begin on July 24.

Tokyo 2020 organisers have said that preparations were "continuing as planned".

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