TOKYO – Spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Japan, the organizers said on Saturday, making a major concession to the realities of Covid-19 even as they continued their plans to host the world’s largest sporting event.
the Tokyo Games, which start in July, were originally planned for 2020 but have been delayed than a year because of the pandemic. The Tokyo Organizing Committee has strived to develop safety protocols to protect participants and local residents from the virus. The concern became acute in Japan, with large majorities saying in polls that the Games are not expected to take place this summer.
Seiko Hashimoto, chairman of the Tokyo committee, promised at a press conference on Saturday that the lack of international spectators would not spoil the Games.
“The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence will remain the same,” Ms. Hashimoto said. “The athletes will put everything on the line and inspire people with their exceptional performances. “
The decision to ban overseas spectators, which Tokyo organizers made in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee and Japan’s national and local governments, had been publicized in Japanese media for weeks.
Thomas Bach, IOC President, encouraged National Organizing Committees to secure vaccines for athletes, and he announcement This month China offered to provide vaccines to participants who needed them ahead of the Games.
But not all local spectators will have the chance to be vaccinated before the Olympic Games open July 23. In Japan, where the vaccine deployment has been relatively slow, the population will not be nearly fully immunized by the time the Games begin.
Officials said on Saturday they would meet again in April to discuss the number of spectators allowed into Olympic venues.
Organizing committees will now have the huge headache of organizing refunds for ticket buyers. Foreign buyers bought 600,000 tickets for Olympic events, as well as 30,000 tickets for the Paralympic Games from August, organizers said. The Paralympic Games also ban foreign spectators.
Japanese fans could take some of the slack. Local demand for tickets far exceeded supply, at least before the pandemic.
The coronavirus has had a relatively moderate effect on Japan, which has had far fewer cases and deaths than the United States and Western Europe. The country has reported just over 8,700 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Japan declared a generalized state of emergency in early January after an increase in infections. Since then, most regions have lifted the declaration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that it would end in Tokyo.
As part of its efforts to stop the spread of new, more infectious variants of Covid-19, Japan has also banned all new entries into the country from overseas since the end of December.
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However, these measures were lifted for Olympic athletes and some of their entourage. The move was controversial: Foreign students and workers still cannot enter the country, and the Foreign Ministry has given no clear indication as to when that might change.
Banning foreign spectators is unlikely to allay public concerns about the Games, as thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists will still come for the event. Nearly 80% of the public want the Olympics to be postponed or canceled altogether, according to some polls.
Regardless of the opposition, officials plan to officially kick off the Games countdown on Thursday with the torch relay, from Fukushima. As with the events this summer, the number of spectators will be limited.
International ticket holders will now need to go through the refund request process. Everen Brown, 60, photographer in Salt Lake City and a super fan who attended 15 Olympics, bought about $ 8,600 in Tokyo Games tickets for himself and his nephew.
They were eagerly awaiting to see beach volleyball, archery, fencing, diving and a men’s basketball game and had tickets for the closing ceremony. Under the terms of CoSport, the broker that handled the sale of tickets to fans based in the United States, customers will not be reimbursed for certain fees – which Mr Brown said could cost him around $ 1,200 – and refunds could take time. .
“Since we’re banned, it’s only fair for them to go around and give back all the money paid,” Mr Brown said before the announcement was made. Plus, he said, after waiting a whole year, he wanted his refund quickly. “It would be really painful to watch this at home on TV and know that they have the money, and not know when you’re going to get it back.”
Hikari Hidacontributed reports.