With one month to go until the Tokyo Olympics, organizers say up to 10,000 local fans will be allowed to attend each venue as they tried to save some of the spirit of the Games, even though cheering has been banned.
Organizers set a 50% capacity limit, but officials said if coronavirus cases spike again, the rules could be changed and attendance could still be banned. Spectators from abroad were already banned several months ago.
The decision comes at a time when Japanese opposition to holding the Games in July remains high, although it may be waning, and when new infections in Tokyo have started to wane. Still, health officials fear that in a country where the vast majority of people have yet to be vaccinated, crowds at the Olympics could increase cases.
The country’s top medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, recommended last week that the safest way to celebrate the Olympics would be without fans.
Allowing fans to pose a risk not only in venues, but could lead to more people passing through bars and restaurants, he said.
An Olympiad like no other
It is already clear that these Olympics will be different from any other, but organizers have said they are determined to hold them and that billions of dollars in broadcast rights and ticket sales are at stake.
Still, much of the fanfare that surrounds them – people from all over the world rubbing shoulders, a celebratory atmosphere in the host city, and the host country’s culture on display – will be off the table or much quieter this year.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics, called the decision “the last piece for the Olympics” to be held on July 23.
But as with everything related to these Olympic Games, the first postponed in the history of the Modern Games dating back to 1896, although the previous ones were canceled during the two World Wars, the decision raised many questions.
For one thing, it’s not quite what it sounds like. Although a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed at any given location, so-called stakeholders, including sponsors and sports federation officials, will not be counted toward that total, according to the organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto.
Japanese media, for example, reported that up to 20,000 people could attend the opening ceremony, in addition to athletes, although Muto said he thought it would be less than that.
The decision on local fans was announced after so-called five-match online talks with local organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of metropolitan Tokyo. The decision on the Paralympic Games is made on July 16.
Meanwhile, Hashimoto left the door open to a fanless Olympics if conditions worsen around the pandemic.
“We need to be very flexible. If there is any abrupt change in the situation, we will hold five-party meetings again to make other decisions,” Hashimoto said. “If a state of emergency is announced during the Games, all options, such as games without spectators, will be examined.”
Officials say local fans will be under strict rules. They will not be allowed to cheer, they must wear masks and are told to go straight home afterward.
“We would like people to go straight home from the place without going anywhere,” Muto said.
Under the new 50% capacity regulation, some local fans with tickets will be forced to give them up.
He said 3.64 million tickets were already in the hands of Japanese residents. He said there were about 900,000 more seats than would likely be available. That will mean a lottery to see who can attend.
Tokyo organizers had expected around $ 800 million (€ 671 million) in revenue from ticket sales, but Muto said the true figure would be no more than half. Any shortfall will have to be collected by some Japanese government entity.
The University of Oxford has said that these are the most expensive Olympics on record. The official cost is $ 15.4 billion (€ 12.9 billion), but various government audits suggest it could be double. Everything but $ 6.7 billion (€ 5.6 billion) is public money.
The IOC depends on the sale of broadcasting rights for almost 75% of its revenue. Another 18% are from sponsors. A cancellation would cost the IOC between $ 3 billion and $ 4 billion in lost broadcast revenue – a huge blow, especially at a time when its revenue stream has already been slowed by the pandemic.
Tokyo in a state of ‘quasi-emergency’ until July 11
The decision is made just as Tokyo has emerged from a state of emergency and the curve for new cases has flattened. The seven-day average of new infections in the city is about 400 a day.
The capital and other areas are now in a state of “quasi-emergency” until July 11. The new rules will allow restaurants to serve alcohol during limited hours, the main result of the reduced restrictions.
Overall, more than 14,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in Japan, which has handled the pandemic better than many countries, but not as well as some others in Asia. Its vaccination campaign lags behind many Westerners, with around 6.5% of Japanese fully vaccinated and 16.5% having at least one injection.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has favored allowing fans, said before the official announcement that he would ban fans if conditions change. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike echoed that.
“If a state of emergency is necessary, I will be flexible and will not be open to any fans to make the Games put people’s safety a top priority,” Suga said.
He said he took Omi’s recommendations “seriously” but did not follow them.
In recent polls, support for holding the Olympics appears to be increasing, although the majority still seems to be in favor of postponing or canceling the Games, depending on how the question is worded.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism