Tokyo Olympics to Bar Overseas Spectators From Postponed Games
(Bloomberg) -- The Tokyo Olympic Games will take place without overseas spectators to limit attendance at the world’s biggest international sporting event in the hopes of pulling off the delayed games despite the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was announced in a statement by Tokyo’s Olympic organizing committee after a five-party meeting on Saturday that included the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo government. Tickets purchased by foreigners will be refunded, it said. The decision on limits to domestic fans will be decided in April after another five-party meeting, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said in a press briefing.
“The Tokyo Olympics will be a completely different event from the Games in the past, but the essence -- athletes giving their all and moving people’s hearts with their performance -- will still be the same,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said.
While the decision has been largely expected since media reports raised the possibility in early March, the lack of foreign spectators is set to lead to losses of millions of dollars due to canceled ticket sales. It will also exasperate a dearth of tourism expenditures that was once expected to help boost an industry already battered by the pandemic.
Before the games were postponed last year, some 600,000 foreign visitors were expected to attend, in addition to more than 11,000 athletes. The Tokyo Olympic Committee in December estimated overall ticket sales of about 90 billion yen ($827 million), or about 12% of total expected revenue from the Games. About 900,000 of the 10 million tickets that were initially expected to be sold went to overseas fans, according to the Nikkei newspaper.
It’s still unclear how many local fans might be permitted to enter stadiums. The Sankei newspaper has reported that organizers were considering setting a ceiling of up to 50% capacity. That would limit the National Stadium, set to host the opening ceremony on July 23, to a crowd of 34,000.
The Japanese public has largely opposed holding the games over concern an influx of visitors would spark a resurgence of infections, and amid fears of the spread of coronavirus variants. Mandatory vaccinations or quarantines are not among the requirement laid out for visiting athletes, officials, broadcasters and other Olympics-related visitors in a series of playbooks.
With more than 2 million people dead from Covid-19 globally, the pandemic has forced countries to tighten border controls and limit large gatherings to curb the spread of infections. Japan effectively closed its borders to foreigners last year as new coronavirus strains emerged, making exceptions only for special circumstances such as family reunions and medical treatment.
The government plans to expand those exemptions to include athletes and coaches ahead of the Games, the Nikkei newspaper reported in February.
The Tokyo Olympics has faced a slew of setbacks since it was first awarded to Japan, from allegations of plagiarism over its first official logo, to the sexism scandal that brought down Yoshiro Mori, the former chief of the Tokyo organizing committee. The latest gaffe came from chief executive creative director of the games, who stepped down on Thursday over demeaning suggestion involving a female comedian.
While a slowdown in global infections and the development of vaccines have helped restart large events around the world, some have continued to doubt whether the Games can or should go ahead. March, when the games were delayed last year, has again been seen as a key period for making a decision.
But while the decision on spectators highlights the struggles that continue to impact the Games, it can also be seen as another sign of stakeholders’ resolve to avoid further delay or an outright cancellation.
The International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, and the Tokyo organizing committee have all said they are fully focused on holding the event. Japan plans to go ahead with a nationwide Olympic torch relay from March 25, with virus countermeasures in place including calling on runners to keep a daily record of their temperatures.
Professional sport has continued largely uninterrupted in Japan since last summer. Japan has experimented with various crowd sizes at baseball and soccer games, including full stadiums, though current regulations cap attendances at 5,000 people.
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