Japan Starts Trial Program To Allow More Sports Fans
Francois Nel – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images – Toyota Stadium
in Toyota, Aichi, Japan, pictured before a rugby match in 2019.
As the number of COVID infections continues to drop significantly in Japan, the government has initiated a trial program to allow stadiums to admit more fans for sporting events. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, in early October the program was launched with the first leg of the YBC Levain Cup semifinal soccer match between Nagoya Grampus and F.C. Tokyo at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture in central Japan.
The program is referred to as the vaccine and test package wherein fans who have vaccination certificates or proof of a negative COVID test can enter stadiums that are already subject to reduced crowd restrictions. The government will then assess the effectiveness of these trials in mitigating the spread of infection.
During the Toyota Stadium match on Oct. 6, no problems were encountered, even though there was concern that some people admitted under the program had received their second vaccination less than two weeks prior to attending the match.
Toyota holds about 40,000 people, but under current COVID restrictions the number admitted is limited to 10,000. For the trial, an additional 1,800 people were admitted as long as they had either a certificate indicating they had received two virus inoculations or one that indicated a negative PCR test within the previous 72 hours. Of the 1,800 extra seats, 730 were sold. These fans, who also had to produce a photo ID, were given special passes for access to a section of the stadium that was separated from others. As with other spectators, those in the special section were asked to wear masks and refrain from shouting during the match. The actions were closely monitored using A.I. equipped cameras. Afterwards, the spectators in the special section were also asked to fill out a questionnaire several days later regarding their “level of enjoyment” and whether their physical condition changed at all over a period of several days following the match. According to the Yomiuri, the responses on the questionnaires were generally positive, with people saying they felt safe attending a large-scale sporting event in the company of people who had been vaccinated.
J. League, the professional soccer league that held the match, said it would hold similar trials at all first-division playoffs and will prepare additional seats at the stadiums where they will take place. The chairman of J. League told the newspaper, “Providing a sense of security will become one of the services we offer. I hope these efforts become a model for the dining industry and events in other fields, not just sports.” The government of Aichi Prefecture said it would conduct similar trials at live music clubs and try to offer antigen tests near venues. However, due to a shortage of medical staff it might be difficult to realize.
Less than a week later, it was announced that the additional 5,000 seats made available for the soccer World Cup Asian Qualifier match between Japan and Australia on Oct. 12 at Saitama Stadium had sold out. Consequently, professional baseball teams also announced they would allocate extra seats on a trial basis for post-season games through November.