No beer or chicken but South Korean fans are back at the ball game

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean baseball fans flocked to stadiums on Sunday for the first time this year, happy and excited even as they sat apart from relatives and friends and could not enjoy their usual beer and chicken.

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South Korea’s baseball league kicked off its season in May after a five-week delay but without spectators because of the novel coronavirus, which has all but wiped out the global sporting calendar.

The government decided on Friday that some fans can go back, with 10% of seats available at Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) games from Sunday.

All fans have to wear masks, have their temperatures checked, provide contact details and socially distance in the stands.

No food or alcohol is allowed.

“I’ve been coming to the games since 1980 and I’ve never been this thrilled to be back,” said Kim Hak-chul, 62, a fan of LG Twins, who played the Doosan Bears in Seoul on Sunday.

“It’s sad that we can’t enjoy beer and fried chicken but that’s understandable and we just hope they’ll wrap up the season safely.”

Kim Song-a, a 27-year-old Bears fan, said she had entered a competition to win one of the 2,424 seats up for grabs.

“When I got it, I thought I must’ve used up all my luck for year,” she said.

The tickets sold out in 25 minutes, a Bears official said.

As the Twins’ starting pitcher, rookie Lee Min-ho, struck out Bears sluggers, fans clapped and shouted his name, though the club did not bring its cheerleaders.

Bears outfielder Jung Soo-bin said the return of the spectators - even under these coronavirus conditions - would give teams a boost.

“Fans are our source of strength and hopefully there will be more,” he said.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel