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Japan’s Hokkaido region bans fans at Olympic football matches

Sapporo Dome stadium will be hosting five Olympic football matches but without spectators

Japan’s northern Hokkaido region has decided to ban spectators at the Olympic football matches hosted in the area, expanding unprecedented steps to hold the Games mostly behind closed doors due to the pandemic.

Local governor Naomichi Suzuki announced the move late Friday night, reversing a decision a day earlier by Olympic organisers to ban spectators from events in the greater Tokyo region but allow some fans at competitions held elsewhere.

“All events to be held in Sapporo will take place with no spectators,” Suzuki said in a written statement, referring to the five matches the regional capital is hosting.

The announcement came only a day after Tokyo 2020 and government officials said they would ban fans from events in the capital and surrounding areas, which will be under a virus emergency throughout the Games.

The pandemic-postponed Games will be the first to take place largely behind closed doors.

A handful of competitions will take place outside the capital, including Sapporo which will also host marathon and race walk events. Olympic and local officials have already asked the public not to come out to watch the races live.

Suzuki said he made the latest call about the football matches after assessing that anti-pandemic measures proposed by the organisers were insufficient and would not limit flows of people from Tokyo, which is seeing a rapidly increasing wave of infections.

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Organisers had pushed to allow up to 50 percent capacity audience or fewer than 10,000 people in Sapporo Dome.

Hokkaido itself has long struggled to control coronavirus infections. But it is planning to end its three-week quasi-state of emergency after this weekend.

“The decision was made to ease concerns and to secure safety and security for local residents as our primary focus. I ask for understanding,” Suzuki said.

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