OSAKA (Kyodo) -- The organizers of the national high school rugby tournament said Thursday the annual event will begin as scheduled on Dec. 27 but without spectators in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The decision was made based on the recent rise in the number of infections in Osaka and the risk of spectators coming into contact with participants from across the country. The tournament's 100th edition will include a record 63 teams from Japan's 47 prefectures.
The organizers had already called off the opening ceremony for the annual tournament at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Higashiosaka, which has three grounds. A total of 40 players and staff per team can enter the venue but no parents or guardians.
The principal of each school will have the final say on its participation based on guidance from local government. If a state of emergency is declared by the Osaka prefectural or national government, organizers said they will reconsider holding the event.
The draw for the tournament will be made on Saturday by the organizing committee members and not by the captains of the participating teams as in previous years.
High school sporting events have been hit heavily by the pandemic this year with inter-high school championships in a variety of sports as well as the hugely-popular baseball spring invitational and summer national championships all canceled.
A series of baseball games featuring 32 teams that could not play in the spring invitational championship was held in August at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture, near Osaka, principally behind closed doors.
The national high school soccer tournament will be played in the Tokyo metropolitan area from Dec. 31 under a capped number of spectators and stringent virus countermeasures.