Japan’s Pro Sports Leading the Way to Stop Coronavirus Spread at Large Events

Professional sports leagues are implementing measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus at events, with such efforts expected to influence planning for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Nippon Professional Baseball and J.League soccer have been strengthening infection prevention measures, taking steps such as conducting thorough investigations and using trial and error. As a result, no infection clusters were reported among spectators of their games as of Tuesday.

On Wednesday, 4,825 spectators attended the Yomiuri Giants’ first exhibition game of the season at Tokyo Dome.

Several new infection prevention measures were put into effect to avoid the Three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.

An electronic ticket system was introduced, and tests commenced using facial recognition technology to manage admission to the stadium. Visitors could access a dedicated website that showed the congestion situation near ticket gates and in bathrooms. Also, the number of toilets was increased by 70%.

The J.League has begun making full-scale use of data collection and video this year.

In January before the second state of emergency was declared, 24,219 spectators watched the final match of the YBC Levain Cup at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

The J.League measured carbon dioxide levels in areas such as toilets and shops to quantify the extent of congestion at the event. Location data and time were analyzed to confirm where and when congestion occurred, and the J.League plans to use the findings in the future to guide spectators’ the movements.

After a match, J.League livestreamed video allowing spectators to see crowding at the exits so they could determine the best time to leave the stadium.

Similar measures were taken in February at the Fuji Xerox Super Cup held at Saitama Stadium in Saitama Prefecture.

Both professional baseball and soccer groped for effective infection prevention policies at the start, initially instituting measures such as taking spectators’ temperatures when entering a facility, asking people to wear masks and prohibiting singing fight songs.

The NPB and the J.League have expanded the range of measures, and in the process have set a precedent for other sporting event organizers to learn from in a bid to hold competitions with spectators present.

“Hereinafter, infection prevention measures will be determined by taking into account the efforts of professional baseball and the J.League,” said a Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics official.