Covid Controls Likely To Bar Foreign Fans From Delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

2021-03-03 Reading Time: 2 minutes
Tokyo Aquatics Centre - racing set to unfold without foreign fans to cheer swimmers on - image courtesy of Tokyo 2020

The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games look set to take place without any foreign fans when (or if, given that confirmation is pending) they get underway on July 23.

According to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi today, the decision has been made: foreign fans will be excluded, according to “unnamed sources involved in the discussions”. A final decision would be made “within the month”, marrying the timetable of the expected announcement from Organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“In the current situation it is impossible to bring in foreign spectators,” AP quoted the newspaper as saying as it cited the words of “an unnamed government official”.

The report came just an hour before Tokyo organizers held “five-party” talks online with the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government of Japan.

IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters ahead of the meeting that there would be “hard choices” ahead, adding: “We will focus on the essentials. That means mainly the competitions. This has to be the clear focus. In this respect we may have to set one or another priority.”

Bar On Foreign Fans Would Leave Hole Of Hundreds of Millions In Budget

A bar on foreign fans would come at a high price: tickets sales had been predicted to raise $800 million, a sum that would now be subsidised by the Japanese Government answerable to an electorate that knows that the Tokyo Games are the most costly in history. While the official budget states $15.4 billion, two government audits suggest it might be almost twice that amount.

Seiko Hashimoto, the new president of the organizing committee following the departure of Yoshihiro Mori in a row over sexist remarks about women, noted the difficulties ahead yet when she said: “The biggest challenges is the countermeasures against COVID-19. Nobody can foresee how the situation will be this summer.”

Against a backdrop of hostility among Japanese public and businesses, towards the hosting of the Games while the pandemic is still on the wing, a much reduced Games is the only way Tokyo 2020 can take place at all. A Games that will involved constant health checks and “bubble” controls on athletes, coaches, teams, volunteers, media and others, is on the cards, while those fans who are allowed in, as well as athletes and others, have been told that they will be able to clap but not sing in closed venues.

Rather all of that than deprive athletes a chance to fulfil their Olympic ambitions, is the view far and wide in the realm of elite, world-class sport among people who have worked many years for their Games goals.

The trouble with the Olympics, compared to many sports that have continued to be played on a regular basis throughout the pandemic is clear: scale. The Games will involve 11,000 Olympic athletes, and later 4,400 Paralympians, and tens of thousands of coaches, judges, sponsors, media and VIPs.

Bach said he was encouraged at the number of national Olympic committees that were getting athletes vaccinated, though the IOC said while encouraging vaccinations, it did not require them.

Bach’s hope was “to have as many participants as possible arriving vaccinated to Tokyo.”

“There I can inform you that a considerable number of national Olympic committees has already secured this pre-Tokyo vaccination,” Bach said, without specifying who the vaccinations were for, given that many officials, team staff, media and others belonged to vulnerable groups and hail from nations that have not yet started to roll out vaccination programs, including some nations with extremely high infection rates at the beginning of March 2021.

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