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World Baseball Classic in Japan to still feature masks


TOKYO (AP) — Fans of the upcoming World Baseball Classic are going to see two versions, depending whether the games are in the United States or Taiwan, or in Japan.

In the United States and Taiwan, fans can cheer and need not wear masks. Taiwan dropped most of its mask mandates this week.

For Japan, it’s slightly more complicated as COVID-pandemic rules are changing more slowly. Cheering will be allowed, but masks will be worn at the Tokyo Dome.

The first three days of play in the WBC are March 8-10 in Taiwan and Japan. Play begins on March 11 at the two U.S. sites in Miami and Phoenix.

The tournament, featuring 20 national teams, ends on March 21 in Miami. The powers from Asia will be Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia.

Latin America will feature the largest contingent with Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama and Nicaragua. The United States and Canada have also entered strong teams.

After almost three years of strict COVID-19 rules, traditional cheering returned to this week during preseason games for Nippon Professional Baseball. That included the drum-beating, trumpet-playing, and constant singing that characterizes the game in Japan.

The Japan national team training for the WBC will play warm-up games this weekend and avid cheering will also be encouraged.

However, masks will still be worn.

“I expect a situation where fans will be able to cheer while wearing masks,” NPB General Secretary Atsushi Ihara told Japan’s Kyodo News recently. He was speaking about the upcoming Japanese season.

The Japanese government is expected to relax the mask-wearing guidelines on March 13, leaving many mask-wearing choices up to the individual.

WBC play in Japan ends on March 16, but the policy change is not expected to touch the tournament with masks still being worn.

The shift away from masks has been slow in Japan, where much of the public donned masks even before the pandemic. Few Japanese go without masks, even in outdoor areas like parks and broad sidewalks.

The government policy announced on March 13 will still recommend mask-wearing for crowded indoor settings -- the WBC venue the Tokyo Dome is indoors -- commuter trains, and hospitals.

Businesses will also be allowed to ask customers to wear masks.


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