Japanese baseball to start June 19 without fans

TOKYO -- Japan's professional baseball season will open on June 19 under a plan that excludes fans.

League commissioner Atsushi Saito made the announcement on Monday after an online meeting with representatives of the league's 12 teams.

"I hope we can provide some guidance for sports other than professional baseball," Saito said. "It is important to operate cautiously according to our guidelines."

The announcement came as the state of emergency was lifted in Tokyo and on the northern island of Hokkaido by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The state of emergency was lifted earlier this month for other parts of the country.

Teams can being practice games on June 2.

The season was to have begun on March 20 but the start was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Japan has reported about 850 deaths from COVID-19.

"It is with great joy that we have been able to decide on opening the season. But we believe it is from now that we must make thorough preparations without fail, and it remains crucial our efforts move forward cautiously while protecting our players, other people involved and their families," Saito added.

Japan joins South Korea and Taiwan, whose leagues are open and playing largely without fans.