By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- When the 2020 South Korean baseball championship is awarded this week, it will be done before a reduced crowd due to tighter social distancing rules in the capital region.
The government decided on Sunday to enforce Level 2 distancing regulations for the greater Seoul area, the third-highest in South Korea's five-tier coronavirus alert system, effective Tuesday. The move was in response to the continued surge in COVID-19 cases in Seoul and surrounding regions, even after the distancing level was raised a notch to 1.5 last Thursday.
Under Level 2, professional sports games can only admit crowds at 10 percent of the stadium or arena capacity.
The big event in town is the Korean Series, the championship round in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). The duel between the NC Dinos and the Doosan Bears opened with 50 percent of the capacity crowd in the seats at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, and the first two games, played under Level 1 last Tuesday and Wednesday, had 8,200 fans.
Then under Level 1.5, Games 3 and 4 were played on Friday and Saturday before 5,100 fans.
The best-of-seven series is currently tied at 2-2. Game 5 on Monday will still have the capacity crowd of 5,100. But for Game 6 on Tuesday, when the champions could be crowned, the crowd size will be capped at 1,670.
If the series goes the distance to Wednesday's Game 7, it will also be played before 1,670 fans at maximum.
The KBO said Sunday that all tickets to Games 6 and 7 that have been sold will be automatically canceled, and they will go on sale again at 2 p.m. Monday.
Tickets may only be purchased online at Interpark, the KBO's exclusive ticketing partner, and one person may only buy up to two tickets. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, the box office at the dome will remain closed. Ticketing will close one hour after the start of each game.
As the only domed ballpark in South Korea, Gocheok has been serving as the neutral venue for the final two rounds of the KBO postseason to protect fans and players alike against cold November conditions. Postseason games are typically played in October at clubs' own stadiums.
But in 2020, the start of the regular season was postponed from March 28 to May 5 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and after teams played a full 144-game schedule, the beginning of the postseason was naturally pushed back, too.
Most of the regular season were played without any fans. Teams enjoyed a brief window, from late July to early August, when a limited number of fans could attend games, but a spike in COVID-19 cases forced them to shut the gates back. They opened back up in October, in time for the postseason, but with the finish line in sight, the KBO has been dealt two straight blows.
Professional volleyball and basketball will also be affected by the tighter distancing rules.