Tigers ban ‘jet balloons’ amid suspicion over infection link

OSAKA (Kyodo) The influenza outbreak in western Japan popped a popular Hanshin Tigers cheering routine Tuesday as the team decided to suspend sales of “jet balloons” at its home stadium to avoid the risk of spreading the new virus.

The club said it would suspend sales of balloons at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, and urged supporters not to release them into the air Sunday when they play the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Fans blow up and launch the balloons at the bottom of the seventh inning before Hanshin comes to the plate and after the game if the Tigers win.

But the balloons, which are powered by expelled air, are suspected to be a vector in spreading the new H1N1 virus in the Kansai region because students at Kobe and Hyogo high schools, the focus of the outbreak in Japan, were doing something similar at a school sports event May 8.

A Hanshin official said the decision was made so people could enjoy games in “a safer and more comfortable environment.”

The Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka, the Yakult Swallows in Tokyo and the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka have already put temporary bans on the use of balloons at their stadiums.

Meanwhile, Roasso Kumamoto of the J. League’s second division said it will suspend fan events at soccer games, including pregame autograph sessions, to prevent the virus from spreading between players and fans.

The team also obliged its players and staff to wear flu masks while traveling and will recommend on its Web site that supporters refrain from attending games if they develop flulike symptoms.