Most Rare Thing At Some Olympic Venues: Spectators

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KASHIMA CITY, Japan — For several days, some Olympic football players enjoyed the rarest privileges at the Tokyo Games: the spectators.

While fans have been banned from the vast majority of venues as one of measures to prevent coronavirus infections, the three host provinces still allow a limited number of spectators at their Olympic venues.

Last week, most of the fans at Kashima Football Stadium, about 70 miles northeast of the Olympic Stadium in Ibaraki Prefecture, were schoolchildren dressed alike in summer uniforms and sitting two seats apart.

The stadium was by no means full: more than 1,200 students, escorted by teachers and school officials, were allowed into a hall with a capacity of more than 40,000. Children wearing face masks were instructed to clap but never to cheer loudly.

Of course, enthusiasm sometimes overtook them. In the sweltering match between the USA and Australia on Tuesday, the children mostly remained silent, following the rules. But Alex Morgan A striker to the USA sent a ball into the goal, several shouts broke out. (The goal was canceled by offside decision and the match ended in a 0-0 draw.)

Plans to bring children as spectators were prior to the pandemic and initially many more students would attend the Games. Nearly 10,000 students from 53 schools in the province first applied for student tickets. But after the Games were delayed for a year, many parents withdrew their children. Only about 3,400 students attended the football matches over the three days.

Some parents decided the opportunity was too good to miss. “The Olympics are very special,” said Hiroyuki Onuma, Principal of Kashima Fuzoku Middle School, who came to the stadium with 60 students on Tuesday. “It will probably be the first and last chance for these kids. It will be a great keepsake for them.”

Honoka Kikuta, 12, said she felt bad that more spectators couldn’t attend. “I think it’s very special to see a game in person,” said Honoka, who brought the American flag to cheer for the USA team. In the relative silence of the stadium, he could hear the players’ conversations on the field, even though he did not understand English words.

Go Saito, 14, said it’s been more than a year since he set foot in the stadium where Kashima Antlers, a local team, plays regularly. “Some of my friends didn’t come because they were worried about infection,” he said. “I’m not worried. We’re doing well on preventive measures. And the Olympics are very special and it may or may not be here just once in my life.”

For the athletes, having someone—anyone—in the stands was a blessing.

“It was great to have some fans, someone in the stands clapping, some cheering,” Morgan said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s hard to play in front of an empty stadium. So it was a nice surprise for us.”

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