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Restart for professional sport in Japan edging closer

J LEAGUE

A restart for professional sport in Japan is on track as restrictions are being lifted around the country.

In a report by The Japan Times, both the J. League and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) have a clearer timeline for a potential return, as the state of emergency has been lifted in the Kansai region and reevaluated in the greater Tokyo area.

The leagues were involved in an eighth meeting of their joint task force figuring out a plan to return to action – without fans the likely scenario for now.

Medical experts have indicated that infection rates have dropped across Japan, paving the way for these leagues to resume their seasons under the right protocols to prevent the spread between players and staff members.

Mitsuo Kaku, the leader of the task force’s medical panel and an authority on infectious disease, spoke during an online news conference:

“While the country has issued the state of emergency, large-scale events including sports have not been held,” he said.

“But the situation has drastically changed recently. We don’t know yet what will happen to the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido, but we believe the conditions are in place for the state of emergency to be lifted for the entire country.

“We are not in the position to say when the appropriate timing is for the leagues to start playing, but we believe that we are getting closer to being able to host sporting events.”

The medical experts have stated that it is the responsibility of the leagues to pay close attention to the players and staff for signs and symptoms of Covid-19 ahead of the restart for professional sport, to prevent infections going on to families and close contacts – which should include regular testing and hygiene.

In fact, it’s been suggested that track-and-trace systems could be implemented for fans once they are allowed back in the stands, which would help detect more cases.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike outlined a plan to restart the capital’s economy, adding that the J. League and NPB would be able to host games behind closed doors following the state of emergency being lifted.

“We heard that pro baseball was listed in ‘step No. 1’ by the Tokyo governor,” Saito said.

“We would like to move forward, taking the advice of the medical experts to heart.”

Liam Watson is a Senior Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on international football policy, industry matters and industry 4.0

Liverpool confirms expansion for Anfield Road Stand

LFC

Liverpool Football Club’s proposed expansion of the Anfield Road Stand has been confirmed.

The project, which has been undergoing enabling works throughout the off-season in anticipation, will begin with an official ground-breaking ceremony planned for next week.

Liverpool City Council awarded the club planning permission in June 2021, which included the right to hold up to six concerts and major events at the stadium for a period of five seasons.

The redevelopment of the stand will see 7,000 more seats added to Anfield, taking its overall capacity to more than 61,000. Following two stages of public consultation and feedback on the initial plans, Anfield Road’s expansion project will reroute Anfield Road itself around the footprint of the new stand.

Akin to the construction process undergone by the recently redeveloped Main Stand, the Anfield Road Stand will be worked on throughout the season while matches continue to be played.

Liverpool Managing Director Andy Hughes outlined the steps taken by the club to ensure that the Anfield Road Stand redevelopment could go ahead.

“We have been clear from the beginning that in order for this expansion to go ahead we needed the co-operation of local residents and the community, to successfully navigate the complex planning landscape, and to ensure the project is financially viable,” he said.

“We needed certainty for this project to progress and are now in a position to be able to move forward. We began this journey in 2014 and are grateful to everyone for the contributions they have made to bring the project to this stage.”

When complete, the expanded Anfield Road Stand is expected to create around 400 matchday roles in addition to the 2,200 people currently employed in various operations at each home game, of which 95 per cent are known to live in the Liverpool City Region.

The redeveloped Anfield Road Stand is anticipated to be ready for the 2023/24 season and its design will see the lower tier retained and refurbished with a new upper tier built above it.

As well as an increased capacity, the redeveloped stand will be similar to the Main Stand, with improved concourses and sports bar lounge hospitality facilities. This stand will also see the relocation of the Family Park to a covered position.

Western United announce Lakeside Stadium as one of four home grounds – challenge issued by South Melbourne

Western United FC has announced that they will play home fixtures out of Lakeside Stadium in season 2021/22, only for South Melbourne FC to challenge the announcement hours later.

United, which made a long-awaited update on the construction of its new stadium yesterday, released a statement this morning confirming that Lakeside Stadium – home of NPL outfit and unsuccessful A-League licence bidder South Melbourne – will be included in its rotation of home games this season.

The club announced that Lakeside will host seven home games for the A-League side in 2021/22 season, the first of which will come against Perth Glory on Friday, November 26 in Round 2.

However, South Melbourne has moved quickly to challenge the announcement.

Western United had revealed Lakeside Stadium as one of its home grounds for the 2021/22 season, with a written statement on the club’s website.

“United had limited options for the season due to the lack of rectangular stadiums in Melbourne, and the requirement that stadiums must meet the minimum A-League venue standards,” the statement reads.

“Several other options were investigated during the process but did not materialise as viable. This included Knights Stadium in Sunshine which unfortunately required significant infrastructure investment to meet A-League standards.

“United was keen to continue playing at AAMI Park as per the 2020/21 season, but this option was heavily opposed by cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, despite being the only rectangular stadium in Melbourne that meets all requirements to host an A-League game.

“Lakeside Stadium was selected for several reasons including being easily accessible both on public transport and on road networks with ample parking for United fans based in the west of Melbourne. It is also a purpose-built football stadium that can be adapted to meet to A-League standards, which was a critical factor in the decision-making process.”

South Melbourne has since directly challenged that any agreement is in place at all.

“South Melbourne FC notes the announcement by Western United FC of its intention to use Lakeside Stadium for a select number of games in the 2021/22 A-League Season,” the NPL club noted in a statement.

“Lakeside Stadium and Albert Park is the home of South Melbourne FC and has been for over 60 years. Our licencing arrangements with Lakeside Stadium and the State Government ensures it will remain this way for decades to come.

“South Melbourne FC has a stadium, we have a home and we are proud to call it our own.

“Executives at Lakeside Stadium and Melbourne Sports Centres have advised South Melbourne FC that contrary to the announcement made by Western United FC, there is no written or signed agreement in place with Western United FC or the Australian Professional Leagues to allow Western United FC access to Lakeside Stadium for the 2021/22 A-League Season.

“South Melbourne considers Western United to be a direct competitor in the Melbourne, Victorian and Australian football market. Their acceptance to the A-League was based largely on the commitment to having a purpose-built football stadium constructed in Melbourne’s west. It is approaching three years since the A-League expansion clubs were announced and construction works have still not commenced. Western United’s use of Lakeside Stadium is not acceptable and South Melbourne FC will vigorously oppose any such plans.

“South Melbourne can confirm that it will be exercising all rights to prevent Western United FC from playing A-League matches at Lakeside Stadium.

“The club will provide its members, players, parents and supporters with further updates as information is available.”

Whilst the South Melbourne statement alleges that “Executives at Lakeside Stadium and Melbourne Sports Centres have advised South Melbourne FC that contrary to the announcement made by Western United FC, there is no written or signed agreement in place with Western United FC or the Australian Professional Leagues to allow Western United FC access to Lakeside Stadium for the 2021/22 A-League Season”, the official Melbourne Sports Centres account did retweet the Western United announcement earlier in the day.

The tweet has since been deleted.

In a written statement released earlier in the day, Western United confirmed that the club considered a range of alternative venues but was met with a wide range of challenges, including from AAMI Park anchor tenants and cross-town rivals, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory.

Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis explained the ill-fated search for a suitable rectangular stadium west of Melbourne’s CBD was a vital reminder of the importance of the club’s stadium and precinct project in Wyndham.

“We’ve been working hard to find the best home ground for us, which is not a simple process in a complex sporting environment topped with a global pandemic,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what we want and what our members tell us they want – a rectangular pitch to A-League standard located in the west of Melbourne – doesn’t exist. That’s why we are building Wyndham City Stadium.

“For this season, we wanted to build a home ground advantage that would not only benefit us on the pitch but provide the best solution for a great fan experience for our loyal members and fans that have been with us from the beginning.

“We’re really lucky as a club, we have tough, relentless and dedicated fans that I know will stick on this journey with us through the tough times as we build towards being a great club for the west for generations to come.”

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