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7,000 Protest Hokkaido University Banning Student Athletes from Competing While Letting Olympic Marathon Test Event Happen on Campus

Last November, as a measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus Hokkaido University issued a policy banning all student athletes belonging to the university's sports teams from taking part in competitions. Students at the university are now growing more vocal in their opposition to the decision, saying, "It's way too strict compared to other universities." Students are very upset that the May 5 Sapporo Marathon Festival Olympic marathon test event, which goes through the Hokkaido University campus and will include a mass-participation race, will go ahead, saying, "It makes no sense to let the Olympic test race happen on campus while at the same time banning all students from taking part in any competition." Student leaders will deliver a petition with 7,000 signatures on Apr. 7 demanding a relaxation of the ban on competing.

"If you don't race against the top athletes in the country then you can't get your racing sense back," said a male 4th-year student who belongs to the Hokkaido University track and field team. He is a contender for the win in the 1500 m at June's National University Individual Track and Field Championships and had hoped to tune up at the Apr. 25 Hyogo Relay Carnival meet in Kobe, but under the Hokkaido University rules he has little choice but to give up on both. "If Hokkaido is going to keep up this ban then I want to run unattached instead of representing the university," he said.

Under the "Activity Guidelines" the university issued in November, student club and team activities will be banned if Hokkaido is declared to be in a Stage 4 state with regard to the coronavirus. Even if the government relaxes the state to Stage 3 or lower, under the university's policy school teams will still be banned from competing, going on training camps, or traveling outside Hokkaido prefecture. With the prefectural government having declared a de facto Stage 4 state for the city of Sapporo on Mar. 27, Hokkaido University issued a ban on all organized activities apart from individual practice and online classes effective the start of the new school year on Apr. 1. School sports facilities and meeting halls for other clubs were all closed. 

In January, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology asked all universities in areas where a state of emergency had been declared to temporarily restrict training camps and practice matches against other schools. However, a number of competitions with thorough countermeasures against the spread of the coronavirus were still held, and the Ministry left it up to individual universities whether to take part. Within the prefecture, almost no other university uniformly prohibits student participation in competitions. Hokkaido Kyoiku University Sapporo's policy is, "The decision on whether to allow participation in a competition will be made on a case-by-case basis." Hokkai Gakuen University's policy states, "Any determination will be made based on the infection levels at that time."

Hokkaido University's policy states that the current restrictions will be maintained until at least "early May, when people are moving around less." But the Tokyo Olympics marathon test event, in which 2,500 people from across the country are entered to run, is scheduled to take place May 5 and to pass through the school's campus. Students are suspicious of the university administration's motives, saying, "They're obviously keeping the restrictions in place until early May because of the Olympic test event." Volunteers from the university's sports teams organized an online petition demanding the restrictions be eased, gathering 7,000 signatures in three weeks. 

A spokesperson for Hokkaido University admitted in an interview that the school's policy is stricter than those of other universities but defended the administration's decision, saying, "We feel that extracurricular activities should be restricted in order to avoid any potential impact on classes and research at the university." The spokesperson strongly emphasized that the ban on student activities and the Olympic test race are "different issues" and said, "Depending on the status of infection levels within the city of Sapporo, we will consider examining the possibility of easing restrictions."

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translated by Brett Larner

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