• Kyodo


Road races during a pandemic present a unique challenge when it comes to crowds, as organizers look to keep people away from the races in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Paralympics' marathons will be held Sept. 5, passing Tokyo landmarks such as Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate," in Asakusa, the Imperial Palace, Ginza's upmarket Chuo Street and Zojoji temple.

Fans were asked to stay away from the Olympic marathon and race-walk events earlier this month, both of which were moved to Sapporo due to heat concerns. But endurance races are hugely popular in Japan and many people lined the route anyway.

When the events were held between Aug. 5 and 8 in the Hokkaido capital, which proved to be as hot as Tokyo due to an unexpected heat wave, Olympic organizers, along with Hokkaido and Sapporo officials, repeatedly asked the public not to gather on the streets to watch.

Restrictions were put in place around the main road near Sapporo Station and fences were set up along roadways to cut down on pedestrian movement and discourage spectators from taking in the race.

But despite staffers wearing signs asking pedestrians not to stop to watch, large crowds of onlookers cheered on the athletes and snapped photos in the final days of an Olympics held mostly behind closed doors.

"I can't blame them for wanting to get a glimpse" of the athletes, a security guard on duty during the races said.

"Some fans are dying to watch. We cannot enforce road closures on public roads so there's only so much we can do," a Sapporo city official said.

For the Paralympics, there will be five marathon events starting within a 20-minute window: the men and women's T12 for athletes with visual impairments, men's T46 for runners with upper limb deficiency and men and women's T54 for those in wheelchairs.

According to organizers, more than 2,000 event staff will be tasked with the job of holding placards requesting that people refrain from gathering to watch the races. Many will be stationed in Nihonbashi, a financial and commercial district in the capital, and other areas where large crowds are expected.

But there will not be designated restricted entry zones in order to minimize potential negative impacts on residents and businesses, they said.

Tatsuo Sugimoto, a former Olympian and professor of sport economics at Hosei University, said stronger steps are needed to get fans to stay home.

"Rather than leaving the decision about attending the games in person up to Japanese citizens, it's important to send them a strong message telling them not to come out," Sugimoto said.

"They should be ready for people who cannot resist the temptation to be a part of the Games experience, and keep them away from the course by installing fences. They should remember their Olympic experience and ensure effective management of security and crowd control."

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