March 8, 2020 / 8:57 AM / a month ago

Japan's sumo wrestlers face off for spring tournament in front of empty seats

Spectator's seats are seen empty during a match of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament which is taking behind closed doors amid the spread of the new coronavirus, in Osaka, western Japan, on March 8, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s sumo wrestlers faced off for the spring grand tournament on Sunday in front of empty seats in Osaka, western Japan, with fans asked to stay away to help limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku said it would be difficult for wrestlers to prepare mentally for the tournament without spectators but that they would nevertheless compete to the utmost of their ability during matches.

“All of the wrestlers will hear fans cheering in their hearts and do their best to meet expectations,” he said.

“I hope the power of sumo will bring courage and emotionally move people not only in Japan but across the world,” Hakkaku said.

Other sports events such as baseball, soccer and rugby have also been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, to which Japan dramatically escalated its response by closing schools and cancelling mass events.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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