Tokyo 2020 - Fukushima ban Olympic spectators from attending baseball and softball events over Covid concerns
Rising coronavirus cases have forced Fukushima into a U-turn, as baseball and softball competitions set to take place at the Fukushima Azuma baseball stadium will be held behind closed doors. The two events are making an Olympic comeback for the first time in 13 years and were hoped to illustrate the country’s revival since the 2011 nuclear disaster.
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The situation of rising infections in the prefecture warrants no optimism.
The announcement came as a setback for Japan, as it was hoped the events in held in Fukushima would be utilised to showcase north eastern Japan’s recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Tokyo 2020 organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto had been in contact with Uchibori over growing concerns of increased coronavirus cases and granted the request to ban spectators.
"We've reached the decision to ensure the safe and secure hosting of the Games,” said Uchibori.
Prime minister Yoshihide Suga confirmed last week that there would be no spectators in the Games’ host city, Tokyo, as he declared a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the 32nd Olympic Games, which has already been delayed by 12 months.
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Seven softball and baseball games will be held in Fukushima during the Olympics. Softball is set to be one of two opening events on day one, alongside football, with preliminary rounds scheduled to begin on Monday 21 July, two days ahead of the opening ceremony. Three softball fixtures will take place that day, including the first event of Tokyo 2020 as defending champions Japan host Australia.
Organisers announced last week that football matches scheduled to take place in Hokkaido on the same day would also go ahead without spectators.
Fukushima’s announcement to ban spectators comes 24 hours after Australian Olympic committee president John Coates expressed enthusiasm about spectators attending softball fixtures.
"Fukushima, which is hosting our girls in the first softball game of the Olympics against Japan, they are still able to have 10,000 at that venue, and if the (Covid-19) situation improves significantly we can review numbers again."
Tickets were originally available for 750 Olympic sessions, and with ten days to go until the games get underway, only 26 (3.5%) of sessions are expected to have spectators in attendance.
Prefectures including Chiba, Fukushima, Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Saitama and Tokyo will ban spectators from events, whilst Ibaraki, Miyagi and Shizuoka based competitions will go ahead as planned and allow a limited capacity.
An organising committee spokesman said: "It's extremely disappointing not being able to meet the expectations of the fans who were looking forward to the events."
Fukushima marked the beginning of the 121-day Olympic torch relay in March, led by iconic footballer Azusa Iwashimizu, a key player in the Japanese Women’s World Cup winning squad in 2011.
Despite the public being banned from attending the event which was streamed live, it still drew mixed feelings from residents with fears of rapidly rising Covid-19 cases as the Games are set to get underway amid a global health crisis.
Shoko Watanabe, Olympic torchbearer and resident of Namie, Fukushima said:
Being able to see the summer Olympics staged in Japan in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have been living with this unknown virus over the past year, so the Olympics have been something we’ve looked forward to.
Hashimoto said: "The torch of Tokyo 2020 will become a bright light for hope for Japanese citizens and citizens in the world and a light at the end of the tunnel."
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