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Decision to hold martial arts event in Japan amid virus fears draws fire on SNS

A sign asking visitors to fill in their names and addresses on the back of their tickets is seen during the K-1 World GP martial arts tournament at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama's Chuo Ward on March 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

TOKYO -- The K-1 World GP martial arts competition was held on March 22 at Saitama Super Arena in the city of Saitama north of Tokyo as scheduled, despite the central and prefectural governments' requests to cancel the event amid the novel coronavirus fears, sparking online criticism against organizers as well as authorities.

"Won't it become a source of a cluster (of coronavirus cases)?" commented one of many people who took to Twitter and other social media to criticize the decision to hold the tournament despite various other sports events being called off or taking place without fans. Others viewed the central government's response of just asking organizers to cancel events and leaving them to decide at their own risk as problematic.

The K-1 World GP attracted over 10,000 fans in 2019. On March 21 this year, Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, asked Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono to tell the organizer to exercise self-imposed restraint to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Saitama Prefectural Government had also sought cooperation from the organizer to call off the competition.

The coordinator, however, stuck to its initial plan and announced to take preventative measures such as distributing masks at entrances, placing sanitizers in several locations within the venue, checking attendees' body temperatures using thermography and setting up merchandise booths outside the venue.

Participants were urged to wash their hands and gargle often, among other preventative measures. The organizer also followed the prefectural government's request to set up a booth, where visitors were asked to fill in their name and home address.

People are seen lined up at merchandise booths set up outside the venue to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, during the K-1 World GP martial arts tournament at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama's Chuo Ward on March 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

But many people expressed concerns and disapproval over the decision, with most of the posts focusing on the fear of visitors becoming a source of a cluster. "It's too dangerous to have 10,000 fans shouting inside the venue for eight hours," one post read. Another asked, "If you had to do it, you could've at least held the event in a wide, open space. If you had to do it indoors, why didn't you hold the event without fans?"

"Seeing what happened at the Osaka live venue (where many visitors were infected), it (the coronavirus) will spread across the country," another person pointed out.

Referring to the three contributing factors that the government expert panel says could lead to a cluster of infections -- an enclosed space without appropriate ventilation, vocalization in proximity to another person and having many people within an arm's length -- another person said, "the event meets all these conditions."

Some also demanded the organizer take responsibility if any of the fans became infected. "If you're going to go ahead without considering the trouble you're causing others, you must take all responsibility," one such post read. Another person slammed the organizers, saying they "only care about making a profit."

Other people touched on nationwide moves to exercise self-restraint, with one saying, "What would children, who are trying so hard amid school closures and voluntary refraining from taking part in other activities, think of this?" Another such post read, "The feelings of those who postponed or put off events were trampled on."

Japan lacks measures to compensate for financial losses caused by organizers canceling events in response to national government calls. For that reason, some social media users viewed responses by authorities as inadequate and problematic, and expressed certain levels of understanding toward the organizer's decision to hold the K-1 World GP.

"Unless the national government compensates for damage caused by such a cancellation, this kind of problem will never be resolved," read one such post. "A request for self-imposed restraint without compensation becomes a matter of life and death," said another. One person blasted the government's response as inadequate, saying, "It must be difficult to exercise unconditional self-restraint. Are they saying organizers should go bankrupt? The government isn't taking an appropriate response."

Local governments were also met with deep-rooted criticism by social media users, with one saying, "They only request, but don't compensate."

(Japanese original by Takuya Yoshida, Integrated Digital News Center)

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