SEOUL (UPI) — The Korea Baseball Organization, which began allowing fans back to games last month, will raise its stadium capacity from 10% to 25% starting Tuesday, the league announced.
Korea’s Ministry of Sports, Tourism and Culture last week gave the go-ahead for the league to bring back up to 30% of fans, but the KBO decided to keep the level at 25% to be able to maintain social distancing at each venue.
“The allowable crowd size is up to 30%, but for the time being, [the KBO] will be operating in the mid-20% range for each stadium until a new arrangement that complies with the prevention guidelines is stably maintained,” the league said in a statement released on Monday.
“KBO and the 10 clubs welcome the government’s decision to expand audiences and express their deep gratitude to the crowds for maturely handling the inconvenience and thoroughly complying with the quarantine guidelines,” the statement said.
Fans visiting the stadium get their temperatures checked upon entry and are required to wear a face mask throughout the game. No food or alcoholic beverages are allowed in the stands and spectators are required to keep a distance of at least one empty seat from each other. Chanting, singing and loud cheers — staples of the live Korean baseball experience — are also discouraged.
The newly expanded capacity will kick off with five games on Tuesday. In Seoul, the Kia Tigers will face the LG Twins at Jamsil Baseball Stadium and the Kiwoom Heroes will play the Hanwha Eagles at Gocheok Sky Dome. In Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, the NC Dinos will face the Lotte Giants at Sajik Stadium.
In Daegu, the southeastern city where South Korea had a major outbreak of COVID-19 in February and March, the Doosan Bears will visit the Samsung Lions at Daegu Samsung Lions Park. And in Suwon, 20 miles south of Seoul, the KT Wiz will host the SK Wyverns at KT Wiz Park.
Attendance for each of the stadiums will range between 4,000 and 6,000 fans.
South Korea’s pro soccer league, the Korea Professional Football Federation, or K League, also announced on Monday it would be increasing its stadium capacity to 25% starting on Friday. The league, which has a first and second tier, began admitting spectators on Aug. 1, at the same 10% level as baseball.
There have been no COVID-19 cases reported from baseball’s reopening. Adding additional fans brings some financial relief to KBO’s 10 teams, which are playing a full 144-game schedule and have been paying players their full salaries since the league restarted in early May.
The league touted its success in creating a safe environment for the players, personnel and fans since reopening.
“KBO has attracted a great deal of attention at home and abroad as an exemplary approach to prevent COVID-19,” the league’s statement said, adding that its guidelines were requested by major sports leagues in the United States, professional baseball in Japan and soccer leagues in Europe.
“The quarantine guidelines were observed to be exemplary in the active cooperation of the spectators and the efforts of each club to manage quarantine even after spectators entered,” the league said.
Despite ongoing cluster outbreaks in recent months tied to crowded spaces, such as nightclubs, distribution centers and churches, South Korea has managed to keep local spread of coronavirus to manageable levels through vigorous testing and tracing protocols.
On Tuesday, health officials reported 34 new virus cases in South Korea, of which 23 were local and 11 came from international visitors entering the country, including seafarers on a Russian vessel. The country’s total cases rose to 14,660 on Tuesday, while deaths remained at 305, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.
Reporting by Thomas Maresca
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