About 50 students from a junior high school in the city of Chiba watched the men’s goalball match between Japan and Algeria at Makuhari Messe on Wednesday as part of a program for students to watch the otherwise spectatorless Paralympics in person.

But municipalities have been wavering over whether to allow students to watch the Paralympics at competition venues due to rising concerns among parents over infection risks and the heavy burden placed on accompanying teachers, who are tasked with making sure social distancing measures are followed.

Earlier this month, organizers decided to hold the Paralympics without domestic fans while allowing students to watch the Games in person.

At Makuhari Messe, students wearing masks sat a seat apart from each other and clapped when Japan scored. They clapped rhythmically during time outs and largely refrained from talking during the contest.

“We decided to allow students who wish to watch the Games in person to go since organizers have taken sufficient infection countermeasures,” Chiba Mayor Shunichi Kamiya said Aug. 18. “Watching the Games in person will be a valuable experience for them.”

About 80% of public school students in the city of Chiba, including pupils at schools for those with special needs, will watch Paralympic competitions in person at Makuhari Messe.

However, most public schools in Tokyo have canceled plans to have their students watch the Games, as the capital’s hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Japan plays Algeria in a Paralympic men's goalball match at Makuhari Messe in Chiba on Wednesday. | REUTERS
Japan plays Algeria in a Paralympic men’s goalball match at Makuhari Messe in Chiba on Wednesday. | REUTERS

As of Tuesday, 20,583 students from public elementary and junior high schools in Shinjuku, Shibuya and Suginami wards and Hachioji city, as well as six Tokyo-run high schools, were expected to watch the Games in person.

“The Paralympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I had hoped the school would allow children to go, even only for those who want to,” said Keiko Ashino, a mother of two daughters in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward. “But then again, allowing only some of the students to go would have been difficult.”

Her daughter’s school, for one, had said Monday that students would watch the Paralympics on Tuesday next week. But based on the decision of the ward’s education board, it canceled the plan the following day.

Schools taking their students to the venue will:

  • Take a bus, not public transportation.
  • Wear single-use surgical masks and refrain from cheering.
  • Not eat at the venue, though beverages are allowed for hydration.
  • Practice social distancing in the stands.

Staff writer Jason Coskrey contributed to this report.

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