Opinion divided among locals where Olympic venues will allow spectators

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Miyagi Stadium

The first event at the Tokyo Olympics in which spectators will be allowed will be a women’s soccer match to be played at Miyagi Stadium on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony.

But around the town of Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture, where the stadium is located, residents are divided into two camps — those welcoming the opportunity to see the Olympics live, and those more concerned about the possible spread of the coronavirus.

Miyagi Stadium, which will host 10 soccer matches in all starting with the match between China and Brazil on Wednesday, has a seating capacity of 10,000. The prefecture is urging spectators to go directly to the venue and return directly to their homes or hotels.

The stadium is about 40 minutes by shuttle bus from Sendai Station. The center of Sendai has the busiest entertainment district in the Tohoku region, but the prefecture will ask restaurants in the city that serve alcoholic beverages to shorten their business hours to 9 p.m. starting Wednesday.

With late matches expected to end around 10 p.m., Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said, “I don’t think it will be easy to eat and drink in the center of the city after the game.”

City volunteers in charge of traffic information will guide people with placards bearing arrows, and spectators will be seen off in low voices.

However, there are still deep-rooted fears.

“I have no idea how effectively going straight to the stadium and straight home will be carried out,” Sendai Mayor Kazuko Kori said with concern at a press conference on July 13. She requested that the organizing committee close the doors to spectators.

On July 12, group of medical professionals, including the chairman of the Miyagi Medical Association, the head of Tohoku University Hospital and the chairman of the Sendai Medical Association, jointly submitted a letter to Gov. Murai requesting the banning of spectators.

“We cannot help but be greatly alarmed by the large number of people coming from outside the prefecture at a time when there is concern about an increase in the number of infections,” they pointed out.

Through 5 p.m. Friday, the prefectural government had received 2,381 calls and messages, the majority of which were complaints and requests to hold the matches without crowds.

From the middle of June, the number of newly infected people per day in the prefecture had remained at less than 10. But it suddenly surpassed that level, and since July 6, the number has been higher than the same day of the previous week for 12 consecutive days.

Opinion remains divided among residents. “The number of infections in Sendai is also steadily increasing, and the Olympics will bring people from all over Japan and abroad,” said a company employee living in Sendai’s Aoba Ward. “I can’t help but be concerned about a new surge.”

Conversely, a student from Aoba Ward said, “The Olympics is an event where athletes and spectators can share emotions. Rather than questioning whether or not to allow spectators, each and every one of us should observe the rules when we are in the stands.”

Shizuoka prepares for crowds

In Shizuoka Prefecture, where a number of cycling events to be held, people are being asked to refrain from lining the course during the road races, although spectators will be allowed at the finish line and at the track events.

The prefecture is also offering vaccinations to city volunteers who wish to receive them.

The city of Izu, which will host the track events and mountain biking and allow spectators at both, has canceled a planned event around Shuzenji Station to welcome spectators with local specialties.

The town of Oyama, where the road race will finish, has decided not to set up viewing points and rest tents along the route. “We are calling on people through our website to refrain from watching along the roadside,” a town official said,

The city of Gotemba, where part of the road race course is located, is planning to set up a live public viewing site for the race, but on a reduced scale. It will be staffed with nurses and other medical personnel, with thorough coronavirus protocols in place.

As the event coincides with the climbing season of Mt. Fuji, a city official said, “We have no choice but to thoroughly call out to the public to avoid close contact.”