TOKYO – It’s finally official after countless news reports and unsourced rumors: Overseas viewers will be barred from the postponed Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months.
The decision was announced on Saturday after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee and local organizers.
Authorities said the risk was too great to admit foreign ticket holders during a pandemic. The Japanese public has also opposed fans from abroad. Various polls have shown that up to 80% oppose the holding of the Olympic Games, and a similar percentage opposed the attendance of fans from abroad.
Japan has attributed around 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living abroad and to allow them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have concluded that they will not be able to enter Japan at the time of the Games. Olympic and Paralympic, ”the Tokyo organizing committee said in a statement.
Organizers said 600,000 tickets were sold to fans outside of Japan. They have promised refunds, but this will be determined by so-called authorized ticket resellers who handle sales outside of Japan. These dealers charge fees of up to 20% above the ticket price. It is unclear whether the fees will be refunded.
Toshiro Muto, executive director of the organizing committee, said the organizers were not responsible for money lost on flights or hotel reservations. He said these did not imply any “contractual agreement with Tokyo”.
Organizing committee chair Seiko Hashimoto, who participated in seven Olympics as an athlete (she won bronze in speed skating in 1992) said there was pressure to wait longer to make a decision. But he said fans can now plan. She also regretted the move.
“So the fact that spectators cannot attend the games from abroad is very disappointing and regrettable,” he said. “It was an inescapable decision.”
IOC President Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision”.
“We have to make decisions that may require everyone’s sacrifice,” he said.
Muto appeared to dismiss fans who entered who may have received tickets from sponsors with a lot of money.
“If they are part of the operation of the games, if they are somewhat involved in the operation, there is still a possibility that they can enter Japan,” Muto said. “But only as spectators to watch games, no, they will not be allowed to make an entrance.”
The financial burden of lost ticket sales falls on Japan. The local organizing committee’s budget called for revenue of $ 800 million from ticket sales, the third largest source of revenue in the privately funded budget. Any shortfall in the budget will have to be covered by Japanese government entities.
“Ticket revenue will be in decline,” Muto said. “That is very clear at this point.”
Muto also hinted at more cuts for people on the periphery of the Olympics. He also said that volunteers from abroad “will be treated in the same way,” but said details will be released later.
“But as for other people related to the games or if we have to keep the same number, maybe we have to reduce the number. That is the consensus. That’s the premise, ”he said.
Overall, Japan is officially spending $ 15.4 billion to host the Olympics. Several government audits say that the real cost can be double. All but $ 6.7 billion is public money, and an Oxford University study says these are the costliest Olympics on record.
About 4.45 million tickets were sold to residents of Japan. Organizers are expected next month to announce capacity at the venues, which will now be occupied only by local residents.
The ban on overseas fans comes just days before the Olympic torch relay begins Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeast Japan. It will last 121 days, traverse Japan with 10,000 runners, and will end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at Tokyo National Stadium.
The relay will be a test for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, involving 15,400 athletes entering Japan. They will be tested before leaving home, tested on arrival in Japan, and tested frequently while residing in a secure “bubble” at the Athletes’ Village by Tokyo Bay, or at training venues or facilities.
Athletes will not be required to be vaccinated to enter Japan, but many will be.
In the middle of Saturday’s meeting, Bach and others received a reminder about earthquake-prone northeast Japan and Japan in general.
A strong earthquake shook Tokyo and triggered a tsunami warning when Bach and others made introductory remarks before the virtual meeting. The force was set to 7.0 by the United States Geological Survey and the location was in northeastern Japan, an area hit by a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Approximately 18,000 died in that tragedy 10 years ago.
“I think the screen is shaking. Have you noticed that the screen shakes, ”said Tamayo Marukawa, Japan’s Olympic minister, as she made her presentation from Tokyo speaking remotely with Bach visible on a screen in Switzerland. “Actually, we are in the middle of an earthquake right now.”
Officials said there were no immediate reports of damage.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.