Olympics-Basketball-Japan’s Hachimura wishes fans were in arena

Sports Tokyo 2020

Jul 26, 2021; Saitama, Japan; Team Japan small forward Rui Hachimura (8) reacts while sitting on the bench during the fourth quarter against Spain in men's basketball Group C play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Saitama Super Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2021; Saitama, Japan; Team Japan small forward Rui Hachimura (8) reacts while sitting on the bench during the fourth quarter against Spain in men’s basketball Group C play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Saitama Super Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

By Chris Gallagher

SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese basketball player Rui Hachimura said his team wished fans had been allowed into the arena for their Olympic game against Spain on Monday.

The Japanese men’s team is playing in the Olympics for the first time since 1976, and Saitama Super Arena in normal times would be rocking with support for the host nation.

But the seats at Monday’s game were empty save for a scattering of media and staff after Tokyo Olympic organisers decided to bar spectators from most venues as a COVID-19 countermeasure.

“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 organisers opted for stricter measures out of worry 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 over 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.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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