The organizers of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will most likely not allow overseas spectators to attend the massive sporting event, as global efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus are taking longer than initially anticipated, officials with knowledge of the planning said Friday.
The heads of the organizing bodies of the Summer Games are expected to hold a virtual meeting in mid-March to make a decision on the issue, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But one of them said, “Practically, the course has already been set.”
The chief of the Tokyo Organising Committee also hinted at the difficulty of welcoming fans from abroad in a news conference the same day.
“We would really like people from around the world to come to a full stadium, but unless we are prepared to accept them and the medical situation in Japan is perfect, it will cause a great deal of trouble, including for visitors from overseas,” said Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee.
Whether or not to allow fans from abroad in the stands at each venue is one of the most difficult decisions the organizing committee has to make in the coming days. Public support for the games remains low in Japan amid lingering concerns over a rebound in infections driven by coronavirus variants.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the committee, echoed that view in an interview hours before Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga extended the COVID-19 state of emergency covering the Tokyo metropolitan area by weeks to March 21.
“Japan is not allowing (foreign nonresidents) to enter the country at the moment. They will be allowed once the situation improves, but I think it is not easy for the situation to improve to the point that we can welcome them with ease,” he said.
Earlier this week, the five organizing groups of the games, including the Tokyo committee and the International Olympic Committee, agreed to decide on what to do about overseas spectators by the end of March.
Hashimoto has said the organizers, also including the International Paralympic Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government, have to make a final decision on the issue by March 25, when the Japanese leg of the torch relay begins.
The organizers will then make a decision in April on the number of spectators to be allowed into the venues.
Muto expressed optimism that the situation will likely improve by then but said the Tokyo committee has not ruled out the possibility of staging events behind closed doors.
The capital and surrounding prefectures have been under the state of emergency since Suga declared the measure on Jan. 7, when the areas confirmed a total of about 4,000 daily cases of infections.
The emergency, which includes requests for residents to stay at home as much as possible and for restaurants to close by 8 p.m., was originally scheduled to be lifted in early February.
Still, Muto said there is not even a remote chance of another postponement of the Olympics and a cancellation is not on the table.
“There are people who say the games should be postponed, but from my view, pushing them back is impossible,” he said.
Hashimoto, meanwhile, said at the news conference it is essential to dispel health worries among the public.
“It’s difficult to hold the games unless the public has a sense of security. People may think we are pushing ahead with the games no matter what, but that is not true,” the seven-time Olympian said.
Muto specified three main reasons why pushing back the Olympics until 2022 is not an option, saying athletes will not be able to train under pressure for an extra year and that the organizing committee will not be able to win support for the idea from the international community.
He also said the Japanese organizers cannot secure the athletes’ village in the Harumi waterfront district for another year as real estate companies need to sell the housing units there after they are renovated.
According to a Kyodo News survey conducted last month, 47.1% of respondents wanted the Olympics and Paralympics to be postponed again, while 35.2% said they should be canceled. Only 14.5% wanted the games to be held as currently scheduled.
“In regards to coronavirus countermeasures, we need to inform the public of the rules to the point that people will think ‘are they really doing this much?’ Unfortunately, we have not fulfilled that 100%. So I think it is something we need to work on,” Muto said.
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