Hiroshima’s Tsukasa Morishima (L) vies for the ball with Kobe’s Dankler (R) in an empty stadium during the J-League match between Vissel Kobe and Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Kobe on July 4, 2020, during the reopening day of Japan’s football league, after matches were forced to be postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Top-flight Japanese football kicked off again on Saturday, but without spectators, following a four-month break because of coronavirus.

The restart to Japan’s J-league comes after professional baseball began its virus-delayed season behind closed doors on June 19 and the country gradually rolls back its anti-virus measures.

No spectators were allowed into stadiums for the nine games on Saturday, while players and coaches tested negative before taking part.

Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta, playing with Vissel Kobe, said he hopes to bring joy to as many people as possible at a time when the sports world has been battered by the pandemic, according to the Sankei Shimbun daily.

The league got underway for one weekend in February before it was suspended.

Spectators will be allowed to watch live from July 10, with stadiums scheduled to admit 5,000 — or 50 percent of their capacity — whichever number is smaller.

Fans are expected to be asked to wear masks, wash their hands frequently and avoid shouting.

The government has lifted a national state of emergency imposed to contain the virus, but the public are still urged to observe good hygiene practices and social distancing.

The pandemic has already forced a one-year delay to the summer Tokyo Olympics, and suspended everything from sumo to the summer high-school baseball tournament — an enormously popular event that receives extensive television coverage.



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Japan gets football rolling but with no fans in stands