Tokyo is canceling several major events in the next few weeks, as China’s novel coronavirus contagion spreads to Japan and more than 20 other countries. The affected events include the Emperor’s birthday, local sports matches, as well as some 2020 Olympics qualifying games.
On Monday, February 17, Japanese Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Katsunobu Kato said the infection had reached “a new phase,” and called on the public, “especially the elderly, to avoid crowded places” to reduce the chance of contracting the COVID-19 disease.
Japan remains the country with the most number of infections after China, the epicenter of the outbreak. This is owing to the fact that passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is docked at Yokohama for quarantine, are counted as Japanese infections, regardless of the nationality of the passengers.
On February 17, another 99 people were diagnosed on the Diamond Princess, bringing the count of those on the ship who have contracted the virus to 454. They are among the 500 confirmed cases recorded under Japan’s name. On land, Japan recorded one death last week.
In China, the number of people diagnosed has risen to exceed 68,000, with more than 1,600 deaths as of February 17. Worldwide, 71,810 cases, with 1,775 deaths and 11,277 recoveries, have been recorded.
Emperor’s Birthday Greetings
The Imperial Household Agency (IHA) announced on February 17 that the planned events at which Emperor Naruhito and the imperial family were expected to greet the public on the Emperor’s birthday would be canceled.
The spokesperson for the IHA said, “It’s a regrettable outcome because it’s an important occasion when the emperor can hear the congratulations of the people, but one of the characteristics of the occasion is that implies many to gather all in one place, and after various considerations in the spirit of caution, we have decided to cancel the event.”
Many in Japan were preparing for the long weekend in honor of the Emperor’s birthday on February 23.
Traditionally, the Emperor greets his subjects a couple of times a year, one such occasion being his birthday.
The last time the greetings for the Emperor’s birthday were cancelled was in 1996, as a sign of respect for the Japanese embassy’s hostage crisis in Peru.
Tokyo Marathon for General Participants
Tokyo Marathon, a hugely oversubscribed event and the most popular marathon in Japan, was scheduled to take place on March 1, 2020.
On February 7, organizers requested runners who were residents of the People’s Republic of China to defer their entry to 2021. They also announced they would distribute masks to runners as a prevention. (On February 16, many who were watching TV were greeted by images of Matsumoto Marathon Runners wearing masks.)
But with the situation worsening over the past week, Tokyo Marathon organizers announced on February 17 that “general participants” would not be allowed in the event, restricting participation to 176 “elite” runners and 30 runners in wheelchairs.
The Tokyo Marathon also doubles up as a qualifier for athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, which is set to take place in July.
Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers ー Canceled Events
On February 13, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee Yoshiro Mori strongly reiterated, “I would like once more to confirm that we are not considering delaying or cancelling the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”
In practice, however, the impact of the coronavirus is already being felt. Some qualifying events were cancelled, where point-based merit systems are supposed to determine which athletes will get to participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
This is the case with badminton. Between April 21 and 26, the Badminton Asia Championships 2020 are scheduled and, following that on April 28, world rankings are supposed to reflect who gets to participate in the Tokyo Games.
Should the Asia Championships be cancelled, this would impact, for example, Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo, who together won gold medal 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the women’s doubles event. The duo currently are ranked third, falling outside the qualifying ranking. In their case, therefore, the performance in the championships could influence their participation at Tokyo 2020.
Other examples of cancellations include the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships originally scheduled in Hangzhou in February, the HSBC Women’s Golf Championship scheduled between February 27 and March 1 in Singapore.
Modified Schedules and Participants of Sports Events
Around the world, not all organizers are taking the extreme resolution to cancel events. But some are taking measures to move or modify the events to minimize the risk to athletes and spectators.
In boxing, the Wuhan Olympic Boxing Qualifier, which was scheduled from March 3 to 11, has been moved to Amman, Jordan during the same period.
Even the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix set to take place between April 17 and 19 has been postponed. It is speculated that it might take place later in the year, should the situation improve.
When schedules are not being modified, participants are still impacted, and the Chinese athletes are of course the first to be affected by the situation. Already, in some instances, Chinese sport representatives have been prevented from participating.
On February 15, Reuters reported that the Chinese team will not participate at the 2020 World Cup of Gymnastics in Melbourne, which is set to start on February 20.
Sport Matches in Japan - Precautionary Measures
The feeling of uneasiness seems to be spreading, leading several sports events in Japan to take precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
The chairman of the Japanese Soccer League (J. League) Mitsuru Murai explained in a press conference on February 14:
To all staff and volunteers at the games, in order not to spread the virus, the J. League is asking each football club to provide masks, and to disinfect entrances, exits, and toilets.
In rugby, athletes in the top league have a habit scheduling “greeting time” with their supporters, where they shake hands and high-five their fans. This practice has been cancelled for the near future.
Finally, Japan Sumo Association Press Relations head Yasushi Shibatayama shared the concerns of the organization about the prospects of the Sumo Tournament set to take place from March 8 in Osaka. “This is something which concerns everyone, I would ask everyone to try their best to do basic gargling, hand washing, and disinfection,” he said.
Author: Arielle Busetto