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The crowd and the noise contribute to the excitement of live sporting events, but they can be a barrier to fans suffering from hypersensitivity or other developmental disorders.

As part of the movement toward a society where fans can comfortably attend sporting events regardless of their disabilities or disorders, the J. League’s Kawasaki Frontale last year began opening up their home ground, Todoroki Stadium, to fans who might otherwise be daunted by the lights, noise and crowd.

In July 2019, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of guests with developmental disorders were able to watch a live match at Todoroki from Japan’s first sensory room, a temporary facility created by three companies including Frontale’s parent company, Fujitsu Ltd. and the Kawasaki municipal government.

Armed with the know-how to stage these public viewings, a club spokesperson said they want to hold these events at least once a year inside Todoroki when it’s packed.

The club is also providing the service for fans when games are being played elsewhere.

In late November, when Frontale played away at Oita Trinita, the club turned the stadium’s VIP room into a special viewing space with the lights dimmed and the volume from the broadcast turned down.

Twenty-nine elementary school students, whose developmental disorders such as hypersensitivity make going out or attending sports events distressing, watched Frontale’s game with family members. They enjoyed their time together, and none suffered any form of panic attack.

People watch a match with the lights dimmed in a sensory room at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki on Nov. 21. | KAWASAKI FRONTALE / VIA KYODO
People watch a match with the lights dimmed in a sensory room at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki on Nov. 21. | KAWASAKI FRONTALE / VIA KYODO

“It was great I could come here to cheer on my team. It was really relaxing,” said 12-year-old Sayuko Tani, who suffers from hypersensitivity.

In one corner of the VIP room, the club created a 15 square-meter “calm-down space,” staffed and equipped with special sensory devices that calm and engage people.

“Having a room where children can calm down makes it easier to go out together and increases opportunities to enjoy things together,” said Nanae Nakahara, the 43-year-old mother of an 8-year-old son with a developmental disorder.

Frontale have taken the first step, and the move to create better spaces for fans with disorders is beginning to take root in Japan, with fellow J1 side Sanfrecce Hiroshima set to have a permanent sensory room in their new stadium. Other clubs are also showing interest.

The J. League is working on a similar setup for the Jan. 4 League Cup final at National Stadium. The centerpiece for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics already has a separate space for those with disorders.

Hidetoshi Takahashi, a Kochi University professor specializing in developmental disorders, welcomes the movement.

“It is going to be a message that they are accepted by society,” he said. “They should share what we learn about best practices while listening to the opinions of those suffering from these disorders. Even a small effort will save some people.”

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