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Sumo fans excluded as Japanese sport hit by coronavirus spread

The Japan Sumo Association decided to hold the March 8-22 spring grand sumo tournament in Osaka with no spectators.

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Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku, fourth from left, attends an extraordinary board meeting (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku, fourth from left, attends an extraordinary board meeting (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku, fourth from left, attends an extraordinary board meeting (Yosuke Mizuno/Kyodo News via AP)

Japanese sumo wrestling is the latest sport to be affected by fears over the new coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, national broadcaster NHK reported that officials of the Japan Sumo Association decided to hold the March 8-22 spring grand sumo tournament in Osaka with no spectators in another move aimed at halting the outbreak.

The decision by sumo officials follows a similar move made by Japanese professional baseball which is holding its pre-season exhibition games at empty stadiums.

The Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s oldest and most popular team, played Saturday night’s game against the Yakult Swallows at an empty Tokyo Dome. The Giants regularly draw capacity crowds at the 55,000-seat stadium in central Tokyo.

Virus Outbreak Japan Baseball
Tomoyuki Sugano, of the Yomiuri Giants, pitches against a backdrop of empty stands (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Japan has taken extensive measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics set to open on July 24.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide to close until late March to help control the spread of the virus.

The domestic J-League announced on Tuesday that all 94 football matches scheduled to run through March 15 would be postponed.

The Japan Race Association also took the step of holding its horse races without spectators. On Saturday, races in Funabashi were held at an empty race course.

Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon, one of the world’s largest races with an estimated 38,000 runners, was restricted to elite runners due to the outbreak.

Japan Tokyo Marathon
There were fewer spectators for the Tokyo Marathon (Shuji Kajiyama/AP)

Tokyo organisers and the IOC have repeatedly said the Tokyo Games will go ahead as scheduled and that they are following the advice of the World Health Organisation.

The Olympics will see about 11,000 athletes gather in Tokyo, followed by the Paralympics beginning on August 25 with 4,000 athletes.

PA