Japan's Rui Hachimura wishes fans were allowed in Tokyo's Olympic basketball arena

Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 26, 2021

The Japanese men's basketball team is playing in its first Olympics since 1976. And while the game will be broadcast live around the world, there will be few people in Saitama Super Arena to watch it.

In normal times would be rocking with support for the host nation. The partisan crowd would surely provide a jolt of energy for the underdog Japanese team. But the seats at the arena are empty save for a scattering of media and staff after Tokyo Olympic organizers decided to bar spectators from most venues as a COVID-19 countermeasure.

Japanese basketball player Rui Hachimura said his team wished fans had been allowed into the arena for their Olympic game against Spain on Monday.

"For sure. We just talked about it before the game," Hachimura said when asked if he had wanted fans to be there.

"We actually played here two years ago. An exhibition game or something and it was great. There were a lot of people who came," added Hachimura, who plays for the NBA's Washington Wizards.

Saitama Super Arena also hosted two NBA pre-season games in 2019 between the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors that drew huge crowds eager to see James Harden, Russell Westbrook and other stars.

Japanese professional sports including baseball and soccer allow in fans with limits on capacity. Olympic organizers opted for stricter measures out of concern that large flows of people to venues in the city would spread the coronavirus.

That disparity was on display when Meiji Jingu Stadium let in more than 14,000 spectators for a Yakult Swallows baseball game on July 10, their most recent home game, while Olympic Stadium next door banned spectators for the opening ceremony and let in only a small number of VIPs and officials.

"It is what it is. We can't do anything about it. Everybody's watching on TV," Hachimura said.

Japan lost 88-77 to Spain in its first game of the group phase. It plays next against Slovenia on Thursday.

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