North Korea became the first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics because of coronavirus fears, a decision that underscores the challenges facing Japan as it struggles to stage a global sporting event amid a raging pandemic.

A website run by North Korea’s Sports Ministry said its national Olympic Committee during a meeting on March 25 decided not to participate in the Games to protect athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”

The pandemic has already pushed back the Tokyo Games, which were originally scheduled for 2020, and organizers have scrambled to put in place preventive measures, such as banning international spectators, to ensure the safety of athletes and residents.

However, there’s still concern that the Olympics could worsen the spread of the virus and Japan’s rising caseload and slow vaccine rollout have raised public questions about whether the Games should be held at all.

Japan’s Olympic Committee said Tuesday that North Korea has not yet notified it that it wouldn’t participate in the Tokyo Games. Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said the government hopes many countries will join the Olympics and he promised ample anti-virus measures.

While North Korea has steadfastly claimed to be coronavirus-free, outsiders have expressed doubt about whether the country has escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilized health workers with quarantine tens of thousands of people who had shown symptoms.

U.S. BASEBALL: Mike Scioscia is taking over as the third manager of the U.S. baseball team in this Olympic qualifying cycle and will try to get the Americans to the tournament in Japan this summer.

Mike Scioscia, the former Los Angeles Angels manager, will try to get the United States qualified for the Olympics by taking over as manager for a second-chance tournament. Reed Saxon/Associated Press

USA Baseball hired the former Los Angeles Angels manager on Tuesday. He will lead a team of minor leaguers into the second-chance qualifying event, the Baseball Americas Qualifier, to be played in June in Florida.

Joe Girardi quit as U.S. manager in October 2019 to pursue a major league managing job, and Scott Brosius took over. Girardi was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The U.S. was three outs from qualifying for the Olympics in November 2019 at the Premier12 tournament in Tokyo when Matt Clark hit a tying home run off former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Efren Navarro had a broken-bat single against Caleb Thielbar to drive in the winning run in the 10th and Mexico beat the United States 3-2 to reach its first Olympic baseball tournament.

Scioscia, 62, led the Angels to a 1,650-1,428 record from 2000-18 and won the 2002 World Series.

TEST EVENT POSTPONED: Tokyo Olympic organizers postponed a water polo test event set for this weekend and said it might be rescheduled for May or June.

Reports in Japan say technical officials were unable to go to Japan because of strict procedures to enter the country. Organizers did not confirm that but said in a statement: “Considering the schedule of each stakeholder under the current global COVID-19 conditions, it was felt that postponing the event was necessary.”

The news comes less than four months before the opening of the postponed Olympics and could be a setback as organizers and the International Olympic Committee attempt to hold the Tokyo Games in the middle of a pandemic. The Olympics are to open on July 23.

Two other test events also appear to be off.

Swimming governing body FINA said on its website that a diving World Cup event set for April 18-23 in Tokyo had been canceled, and it reported the same for an artistic swimming event for May 1-4.

U.S. SWIMMING TRIALS: The U.S. Olympic swimming trials will allow about 50% capacity for the June competition in Omaha, Nebraska.

A temporary pool will be installed at the CHI Health Center arena, which is to host the trials for the fourth straight time. The arena near downtown Omaha normally seats about 14,000 for swimming, but that will be cut in half to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Since more than 90% of tickets were sold for the trials in their original date in 2020, USA Swimming plans a complete refund. An entirely new sale will begin April 16. The governing body already took the unprecedented step of dividing the trials into two parts. Lower-ranked swimmers will compete June 4-7. The top finishers from that group advance to the second part June 13-20, which will feature the country’s top-ranked swimmers and leading medal contenders for the Tokyo Games.

USA Swimming split the meet to lessen the number of competitors and support personnel on the main pool desk and practice facilities.

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