Games at Fukushima's Azuma stadium to have no spectators at Olympics, earlier plans reversed

The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee announced on July 10 that the baseball and softball games to be staged at Fukushima Prefecture-run Azuma stadium in Fukushima city will be held without spectators in a reversal of earlier plans to permit a limited audience. The move followed a request for no-spectator games made to the committee on the morning of that day by Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori in the wake of a fresh rise in coronavirus infections in his prefecture. The committee accepted the plea in the afternoon. As a result, a program to invite local schoolchildren to the games will be canceled. The prefectural government has switched to the no-spectator policy for fear that an influx of people from outside Fukushima, including the Tokyo metropolitan area where new cases have been increasing, may spread COVID-19 infections further. The policy change also reflects concerns among local residents that games with spectators could worsen the epidemic situation. Another factor behind the move was a shift to no-spectator competitions by the Hokkaido government on the night of July 9, which meant the precondition for the games to be held in Fukushima no longer existed. The Fukushima prefectural government had earlier accepted a request from the organizing committee that the games be held with a limited number of spectators, only if all prefectural governments outside the Tokyo metropolitan area act in a unified manner in hosting competitions. A re-draw for the tickets was conducted in the early hours of July 10, only to prove meaningless on that afternoon following the decision in favor of no spectators. Gov. Uchibori apologized for the confusion at a hastily called evening press conference. "We are sorry to have caused a burden to the people who were going to watch the games," he said. "It was a painful decision. The shape of this Olympics -- a Games for reconstruction (from the 2011 disaster) -- has drastically changed due to the pandemic, but the essential spirit of hosting games at Azuma stadium remains intact. We would like people at home and abroad to actually feel progress in our reconstruction efforts through the baseball and softball games to be held in Fukushima." At the stadium, six softball games, including two for Japan, are scheduled for July 21-22 ahead of the July 23 opening ceremony of the Olympics. On July 28, Japan will take on the Dominican Republic in the opener of the baseball tournament, which would have had a limited crowd of up to 7,150 at the point where organizers decided to go ahead with spectators on the night of July 8. Following the latest decision, a program to invite schoolchildren to the stadium has been scrapped. As of July 9, a total of 2,453 students from 35 elementary, secondary and high schools across the prefecture were scheduled to visit there. Activities will also be called off for about 700 "urban volunteers," who would have played such roles as traffic controllers and guides for visitors. Coronavirus infections in Fukushima Prefecture are on an uptrend again. In the latest reporting week of July 3-9, another 134 new cases were reported, up 34 from 100 the week before (June 26-July 2). The bed occupancy ratio stood at 30.0 % as of July 9, up 4.0 percentage points from 26.0 % a week earlier. The number of new cases per 100,000 people was 7.26 in the latest week, the seventh highest level in Japan and the worst among the prefectures hosting Olympic events without spectators, except for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures. Ibaraki Prefecture, which allows some junior and senior high school students to watch the soccer games it hosts from the stands, logged 6.01 while Hokkaido, which has finalized its no-spectator policy, had 5.92, both showing better epidemic situations than Fukushima. Tickets for the Tokyo Olympics are grouped into 750 sessions in all. But the number of spectator-allowing sessions has been cut to 26, or about 3.5 % of the total after spectators were barred first by Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa and then by Hokkaido and Fukushima. All tickets for the baseball and softball games in Fukushima will be refunded after the announcement of the re-draw results was made for ticket holders allowed in the stadium, hours before the policy change shut them out. (Translated by Kyodo News)