Sumo wrestling has become the latest sport to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, after officials decided that the spring tournament would be held behind closed doors.
“To those many who were looking forward to this, we are sorry for this huge inconvenience,” Hakkaku, the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, told reporters.
“There were various viewpoints, but there was an absolute desire to hold it for the sake of the fans.”
The tournament, which opens in Osaka next Sunday, will be televised by public broadcaster NHK, but will be canceled if a wrestler is found to have contracted the virus, Hakkaku added, according to Kyodo news agency.
The decision to ban spectators from the 15-day tournament – one of six major sumo competitions held throughout the year – comes after Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said sports and cultural events should be cancelled or scaled down until the middle of the month.
Preseason baseball games are being played in empty stadiums through to 15 March, while Japan’s professional football league said that all 94 matches scheduled to run through to the same date would be postponed. Rugby’s Top League has postponed 16 matches, while the Japan Racing Association is holding horse races without spectators, and keirin cycling races are being held behind closed doors until 11 March.
On Sunday, just a few hundred elite runners took part in the Tokyo Marathon, after 38,000 amateur runners were told they would not be able to participate. Members of the public had been discouraged from turning out to watch the race, which last year drew more than a million spectators.
While Tokyo 2020 organisers insist there are no plans to cancel this summer’s Olympics, the coronavirus has disrupted preparations for the Games, due to open on 24 July. Last week, Tokyo postponed training for Olympic volunteers and Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the organising committee, said it would scale back the torch relay, due to begin in Fukushima in late March.