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Sumo resumes in front of fans despite rise in Japan virus infections

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    Agence France-Presse

Tokyo   /   Sun, July 19, 2020   /   04:38 pm
Sumo resumes in front of fans despite rise in Japan virus infections People sit apart to observe social distancing while watching wrestlers perform a ceremony ahead of their bouts during a new two-week sumo tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the main sumo arena in Tokyo, on July 19, 2020. (STR/Jiji Press/AFP/File)

Sumo began a new tournament in front of a live audience Sunday, despite a steady rise in coronavirus infections, with fans voicing both joy and caution about watching the Japanese spectacle during the pandemic.

The tournament runs through Aug. 2 at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the primary sumo arena at the heart of the Japanese capital.

The tournament comes a week after Japanese baseball and football opened stadiums to spectators, and as the government seeks to keep the economy open despite worrying signs of the virus's resurgence, particularly in Tokyo.

"Well, it's scary, isn't it," said fan Katsuhiko Ochiai, 59, who traveled from neighboring Chiba region to attend the first day.

"But I love sumo, so I want to watch this," he said.

Only 2,500 fans were allowed inside the 11,098-seat stadium, unlike in normal times when bouts are performed in front of sold-out crowds.

They were asked to refrain from cheering and stick to applause to express their passion.

"It will be different," said Kazuo Aoki, 49, also a frequent visitor to the arena. "I will cheer in my spirit."

Anyone with a temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 F) or higher was denied entry.

Read also: Japan's governors want more areas cut from travel program as needed

Spectators also had to wear masks, sanitize their hands, keep a distance from others and refrain from touching wrestlers or approaching them for autographs.

One wrestler has died from COVID-19 since the epidemic first hit Japan, while several other fighters and officials have tested positive.

Sumo was last held before live audiences in January, when Japan began to see its first cases of coronavirus.

A March tournament was held behind closed doors  before sumo authorities cancelled the May tournament altogether.

The current tournament was originally due to be held in the central city of Nagoya, also behind closed doors.

But officials decided to switch the event to Tokyo to minimize the travel of wrestlers and officials, as well as allow a small amount of fans to watch.

Still, Tokyo's coronavirus infections have been mounting in recent days and on Sunday, city authorities are expected to announce around 190 new cases.

Fans said the excitement of sumo was worth the risk.

"It's the feeling of being here, being present. You enjoy it by being a participant of this spectacle," Ochiai said.

"That's what watching spectator sports is all about, isn't it. Like music. Like sumo," he said.