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(3rd LD) Baseball league suspends season following multiple COVID-19 cases

All News 21:44 July 12, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 2, 19-20)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean professional baseball league decided on Monday to suspend its ongoing regular season following multiple cases of the novel coronavirus, becoming the first major sports circuit here to halt proceedings due to infections among its members.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) reached the decision after holding an emergency board meeting with CEOs of the league's 10 clubs at KBO's head office in Seoul earlier in the day. All games scheduled from Tuesday to Sunday will be played at a later date. Monday is the designated offday in the KBO.

In spring 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, volleyball and basketball leagues here slammed the brakes on their seasons before their scheduled conclusion, but it was preemptive action without any positive cases among athletes or officials.

Fans attend a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the home team Samsung Lions and the Lotte Giants at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on July 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

The KBO will go on a Tokyo Olympic break from next Monday to Aug. 9. This means teams will miss one week of actual play because of the suspension.

Teams have played 74 to 80 games so far in their 144-game season.

There have been five reported cases of COVID-19 involving two clubs, the NC Dinos and the Doosan Bears, since Friday, causing multiple games to be canceled over the weekend.

The KBO first canceled two games on Thursday, after a guest at a Seoul hotel used by the Dinos and the Hanwha Eagles during their road trips tested positive for COVID-19.

All players, coaches and staff of the two clubs underwent tests, and results for two members of the Dinos came back positive on Friday. The game between the Dinos and the Kiwoom Heroes was canceled that day, as was another game between the LG Twins and the Bears, since the Bears had played the Dinos earlier in the week and had to be tested.

In this file photo from July 1, 2021, members of the NC Dinos take a bow to their fans after a 6-3 loss to the Kia Tigers in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Another player from the Dinos and two members of the Bears joined the infirmary list on Saturday. Two games involving these clubs, and a third game involving the Kia Tigers, which had played the Bears on the previous weekend, were canceled that day.

And with the Dinos and the Bears still in isolation, their games for Sunday were also wiped out.

Soon after the KBO announced the suspension, both the Dinos and the Bears issued apologies for disrupting the league schedule. The two clubs vowed to make concerted efforts to prevent further infections, with the Dinos noting that they will discipline any member of the club who violates antivirus rules.

Under its health and safety protocols, the KBO can't unilaterally suspend the season based on a relatively small number of COVID-19 cases. The league allows teams with infected players to add replacements without dropping other active players to make room for them.

But in case of a massive outbreak, the league can call a meeting with club representatives and discuss possibly putting the season on hold.

Along with two infected players for the Bears, 17 of their teammates and 14 coaches have been defined as close contacts and must also be isolated. That accounts for 68 percent of the team's roster, according to the KBO.

For the Dinos, three infected players, plus 15 other players and 10 coaches defined as close contacts, must remain in isolation. The KBO said it is 64 percent of the Dinos roster.

The league and club executives added a new clause to the COVID-19 protocols on Monday: if at least 50 percent of active players on a team must be isolated after testing positive for the virus or coming in close contact with infected individuals, that team's games will be postponed by two weeks.

Under heightened social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area, KBO clubs in the affected cities were scheduled to begin playing home games without fans starting Tuesday.

The no-crowd rule applies to: the Bears, the Twins and the Heroes in Seoul, the SSG Landers in Incheon, the KT Wiz in Suwon.

The KBO said it will hold the All-Star Game as scheduled on July 24, albeit without fans, at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.

The South Korean Olympic team is set to face an under-24 KBO All-Star team on July 23 and then the Heroes on July 25 in their two tuneup games at Gocheok Sky Dome before traveling to Tokyo. Both games will be played without spectators.

The KBO completed its 144-game season in 2020 despite opening the campaign more than a month behind schedule on May 5. The postseason stretched into late November, with the Dinos earning their first Korean Series title on Nov. 24.

In 2021, the regular season began on April 3, only a few days later than the usual, late March start time. Along with the aforementioned COVID-19 cases, heavy rains forced several cancellations earlier this month, including all five games set for July 3.

All canceled games will be made up after teams wrap up their regularly-scheduled games on Oct. 8.

This July 1, 2021, file photo shows fans at a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game between the home team Kia Tigers and the NC Dinos at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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