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The U.S. women’s soccer team is on alert after the Japanese Football Association announced that its president, Kozo Tashima, may have carried the coronavirus into the United States during the SheBelieves Cup earlier this month.
According to the Japan Times, Tashima believes he contracted the virus while attending meetings of European soccer governing body UEFA March 2-3 in Amsterdam. At one point, he sat near the president of Serbia’s governing body, who later tested positive.
The JFA said in a statement that Tashima attended a high-level UEFA Council meeting on the first day and the broader general assembly on the second day.
Tashima had left Japan on Feb. 28 to attend a meeting of the International Football Association Board (the entity that governs soccer’s playing rules) in Northern Ireland, then traveled to Amsterdam.
After the UEFA meeting, Tashima flew to Orlando for the start of the SheBelieves Cup. Equalizer Soccer reported that Tashima met with the media at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium on March 5 after the Japan-Spain game that day. It’s unknown whether he met with Japanese players, some of whom met with media in Orlando and at the two other game sites: Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., March 7-8, and Toyota Stadium in suburban Dallas March 10-11.
U.S. Soccer said in a statement Tuesday night that “we do not believe at this time that there was any direct interaction between the president of the Japan Football Association and any player, coach or staff member" of the women’s national team.
“Presently, no one associated with U.S. Soccer is displaying symptoms," the statement said, though the Federation is aware that the gestation period for the virus can be up to two weeks.
The Washington Post reported that former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro was at the Amsterdam gathering, and exhibited no symptoms in the 14 days since then. Cordeiro resigned from the presidency last Thursday amid criticism of his role in the women’s team’s equal pay lawsuit.
“Our medical staff is contacting the players and all involved, and we will continue to assess the situation closely,” the statement said. "The health and safety of all employees with U.S. Soccer is our top priority and we will continue to take all appropriate precautions while continuing to follow CDC guidelines.”
The players returned to their homes after the last day of the tournament, which was March 11. Some have since reported to their NWSL club teams for preseason training camps, which started in recent days. The Washington Spirit flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., last Thursday to work in warmer weather.
A NWSL spokesperson deferred to U.S. Soccer’s statement on treating players.
This past Sunday, the league ordered all of its players off the field through at least March 22. The league has yet to announce whether its regular season will start as scheduled on April 18, but the odds seem slim. NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement Tuesday that the league is “working on contingency plans for the resumption of our 2020 preseason and potential impact on our 2020 regular season.”
The Spirit said in a statement that “discussions on schedule options are ongoing and will be shared as soon as possible.”
Two Spirit players were on the U.S. SheBelieves Cup team: midfielders Andi Sullivan and Rose Lavelle. The Washington Post reported that Lavelle was in contact with a family member believed to have the flu before she left for Spirit camp, so she is staying away for a two-week stretch that started over the weekend. Sullivan has not been quarantined.
Exploria Stadium is the home of MLS’ Orlando City and the NWSL’s Orlando Pride, which are jointly owned. The organization told the Orlando Sentinel that there’s no indication Tashima had any direct contact with any of its staff or players, or with fans in the stands.
After the Orlando events, Tashima traveled New York to lobby soccer power-brokers about Japan’s bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup. The JFA’s statement did not say what else he did while in New York, but did say he returned to Japan on March 8. That means he left the United States on March 7. Red Bull Arena hosted SheBelieves Cup games (Japan-England and U.S.-Spain) on the 8th, and a day of practice sessions and media availability on the 7th.
As such, he he would not have gone to the stadium, but any contact he had with Japanese players and media in Orlando could have spread the virus.
Upon returning home, Tashima reported the contact in Europe and said he felt some chills. This week, he reported a fever and symptoms of pneumonia.