KBO to ask sports ministry to allow vocal cheering at stadiums

SEOUL-- South Korea's professional baseball league said Tuesday it will ask the sports ministry to lift the ban on cheering at ballparks as part of eased coronavirus restrictions, on the grounds that the activity poses few infection risks.

Representatives from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) and its 10 clubs will sit down with their counterparts from the sports ministry Wednesday to discuss new health and safety protocols for pro ball games. The government lifted virtually all social distancing rules, except for the mask mandate, this week.

The new KBO season began April 2 with stadiums operating at full capacity and fans allowed to consume food and drinks from their seats. The lone exception on concessions had been Gocheok Sky Dome, home of the Kiwoom Heroes in Seoul, because it was classified as an indoor venue. However, that ban on eating and drinking in the stands will be lifted next Monday.

The KBO faces one last hurdle on its way back to pre-COVID-19 times: the ban on fans' vocal cheering.

A major part of the KBO fan experience has been to sing along to players' walk-up songs and chant their names as they step into the batter's box or take the mound. However, those activities have come to be regarded as dangerous during the global pandemic, for they may increase risks of infections via droplets, even with masks on. Though teams have continued to employ cheerleaders and cheermasters on stages set up in the first base and third base stands, fans have only been allowed to clap or bang inflatable cheering sticks to make noise.

While singing and chanting are no longer punishable under eased guidelines, the national health authorities have told the KBO and other sports leagues they don't recommend those activities.

Ryu Dae-hwan, secretary general of the KBO, said the league will seek a clearer set of guidelines. Now that eating and drinking, with masks pulled down, are being allowed, chanting and singing with masks covering mouths should get the green light too, Ryu said.

"When it comes to vocal cheering, the government has been rather ambiguous," Ryu said. "Since we are all on our way back to normal ways of life, we will ask (the sports ministry) to allow cheering activities."

The sports ministry remained noncommittal on that issue. One ministry official said it will likely take a wait-and-see approach over the next two weeks before making the final decision on cheering at sports games.

The government has said it will look into lifting the outdoor mask mandate after two weeks based on a review of the virus situation. The fate on cheering will likely be tied to that decision.

KBO clubs have been struggling to fill seats despite the absence of any crowd cap, and they believe the ban on cheering has contributed to poor ticket sales in the early going.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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