- Japan delayed its Nippon Professional Baseball season because of the coronavirus.
- After the state of emergency was lifted in the country, games began again on June 19.
- Without fans in the stadium, one team put Pepper robots in the stands instead.
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The coronavirus has put most public events, including sports and concerts, on hold around the world. As many countries see declining cases and hospitalizations, public life is slowly starting to reopen. In Japan, which has had a low number of cases, the Nippon Professional Baseball league was allowed to start its delayed season in June.
Fans aren’t allowed to watch games in person until at least July 10, so teams have been putting different symbols in the stands instead. For the SoftBank Hawks, owned by Japanese tech giant SoftBank, Pepper robot seems like the obvious choice. The robots wore team jerseys and looked like cheering fans.
Here’s what it looked like.
As the coronavirus spread in February, Japanese teams started holding closed spring training sessions.
The season was planned for a March 20 start, which was then postponed, along with all team activities for the SoftBank Hawks.
SoftBank, the Japanese tech giant with billions invested in companies including WeWork, Boston Dynamics, Slack, and others, bought the Hawks in 2005.
On opening day, the SoftBank Hawks’ home field at PayPay Dome was closed to spectators.
Photos of empty stadiums looked almost eerie.
The stadium in Fukuoka, Japan, can hold over 40,000 fans.
Instead, Pepper humanoid robots were the only faces in the stands.
Pepper is one of SoftBank’s most recognisable creations.
The robot has been used in efforts to fight the coronavirus around Japan, reducing staff and potential infections at hotels housing coronavirus patients.
At the game, Pepper robots were dressed the part, with SoftBank Hawks jerseys.
They even appeared to be cheering for the home team throughout the game.
Though they weren’t allowed to attend the game, fans could leave messages on boards around the stadium.
Some fans of the Rakuten Eagles, the opposing team, watched the game on a big screen while socially distancing outdoors.
Some stadiums are allowing fans in on a trial basis, along with mandatory masks and temperature checks, before fans are officially allowed back July 10.
Other teams, like the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka, are experimenting with filling seats with stuffed animals.
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