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Real fans to follow robot fans as Japanese sport carefully reopens

The opening ceremony of the Japanese professional baseball match between Seibu and Nippon Ham is seen amid empty stadium seating at the Metlife Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture on June 19, 2020. (Photo by STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP via Getty Images)

Sport in Japan is making tentative progress in its return after the Covid-19 shutdown, as authorities and organisers implement various measures to re-admit fans and lay the ground for the Tokyo Olympics next year.

The Nippon Professional Baseball league yesterday released guidelines for the admission of fans to games from this Friday. NPB teams will be able to allow 5,000 fans into stadiums, with this to be revised upwards to half capacity from August 1 if the Covid-19 situation remains under control.

Infection control measures being introduced include:

  • Temperature checks and facemasks required for all fans
  • Fans to retain ticket stubs for two weeks for contact-tracing
  • If spectators later test positive, teams will release details of where they were sitting and contact those seated nearby
  • No cheering activity deemed ‘high risk’, including balloon launches, the use of ‘noise makers’ or musical instruments, organised cheering, and shouting through cupped hands
  • No admission for those with temperatures over 37.5 degrees celsius, exhibiting symptoms such as coughing or breathing difficulties, or who have too recently tested positive for Covid-19 or have been contact with others that have done so.

A video of dancing robot ‘fans’ at NPB team Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ game against Rakuten Eagles on Tuesday has received considerable attention online. More than 20 robots were used, including SoftBank’s humaniod ‘Pepper’ robot and four-legged, dog-like machines. They performed a dance that is usually performed by the Hawks’ fans before games.

Video credit: Reuters

In Tokyo Olympics news, Japan Today reported that all the venues due to be used this summer have been secured for use at the rescheduled Games next year. This was one of the major tasks for the organisers since the postponement of the Games was announced.

The competition schedule is also reported to be essentially the same. The Games will begin with the softball competition in Fukushima Prefecture, two days prior to the opening ceremony.

There were also reports yesterday that Japan is looking at easing travel restrictions for athletes from abroad next year, even if the Covid-19 pandemic is still not completely under control. The subject is expected to be discussed at meeting in September between national government, Tokyo government and organising committee officials.

Japan has been banning entry by travellers from various countries since the pandemic began in February.

The Japan Times reported that athletes and officials next year are likely to need to take several tests before and after travelling to the country to prove they are safe to stay, and may have to limit contact with other people during their visit.

Next year’s Olympics are to take place from July 23 to August 8, followed by the Paralympics on August 24 to September 5. The Games received a boost last week with the re-election of Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who has pledged to run them successfully next year. Recent surveys of the Japanese public have revealed that sentiment has shifted against the Games somewhat in light of the pandemic.

Organisers still have a long way to go to ensure the Games go ahead next year. One of the key upcoming challenges is securing the commitment of domestic sponsors, possibly with extra financial commitments.