• Kyodo

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A growing number of government officials and Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizers are leaning toward allowing a certain number of domestic spectators at this summer’s games if thorough anti-coronavirus measures are taken, sources close to the matter said.

Two months remain before the opening of the Olympics on July 23 and there are mounting calls from the public for the games to be canceled or postponed due to skepticism about organizers’ ability to contain the spread of the virus.

The capital has been under a state of emergency since late April amid a fourth wave of infections.

Organizers are scheduled to decide next month on the number of spectators at games venues, taking into account the infection situation and other factors.

There are concerns that allowing spectators will increase foot traffic outside venues, meaning additional countermeasures will be required.

The sources also said that having no spectators at events will remain an option until the last minute in the event that the COVID-19 situation worsens.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga favors having spectators, with a source close to his office confirming that measures are being considered in order to allow fans in the stands.

When declaring the start of the state of emergency in late April, the government set a basic policy of not allowing spectators at major events in affected areas.

That was relaxed when the state of emergency was extended on May 7, with attendance to be capped at 5,000 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity.

Adding to the push to have spectators is the track record of pro baseball and pro soccer in admitting fans without significant trouble, and the desire to have fans in the stands.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto (left), Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC Coordination Commission Chairman John Coates (on screen) hold a news conference after a three-day IOC Coordination Commission meeting in Tokyo on Friday. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto (left), Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC Coordination Commission Chairman John Coates (on screen) hold a news conference after a three-day IOC Coordination Commission meeting in Tokyo on Friday. | POOL / VIA REUTERS

“The discussion about having no spectators is over, and now the main avenue of consideration is how many we can allow in,” said an official who has a central role in preparing for the games.

However, if the number of spectators is to be limited, a lottery among ticket holders will be necessary. The preparations needed for a lottery means that time is growing short for organizers to make a decision.

There are also government officials and organizers that believe “the games should go ahead without spectators to ease the burden on operations, and concentrate on infection countermeasures for athletes and stakeholders,” a source said.

Issues to do with hot weather and its effect on spectators are also among the problems that remain unresolved.

In March, the government and organizers decided to prohibit nonresident spectators. A decision on limiting domestic fans was to be made in April, but that has now been put off until June due to a surge in the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Japanese organizers may also be more inclined to have spectators in attendance now that a top official of the International Olympic Committee has said the Tokyo Games can be held this summer even if the capital is under a coronavirus state of emergency.

“The answer is absolutely yes,” John Coates, an IOC vice president, told a virtual news conference Friday when asked whether the Tokyo Games can be delivered under a state of emergency, citing advice on anti-virus measures from the World Health Organization and how Japan “successfully” conducted test events recently.

Upon the conclusion of a three-day remote meeting with the IOC, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing body, said as many as 230 doctors and 310 nurses will be needed per day during the games, adding that about 80% of the medical workers have been secured.

People take part in a protest against the hosting of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in front of the headquarters of the Japanese Olympic Committee in Tokyo last week.
People take part in a protest against the hosting of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in front of the headquarters of the Japanese Olympic Committee in Tokyo last week.

With around 15,000 athletes competing at the Olympics and Paralympics, Hashimoto said the number of overseas officials and workers will be reduced to 78,000, less than half the initial figure, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

Of the 78,000 non-athletes, 59,000, including IOC officials and press members, are expected to be involved with the Olympics, she said.

In a bid to reassure the skeptical Japanese public, the organizers will implement measures based on three policy pillars, which comprise a sharp cut in the number of people from abroad, strict restrictions on the behavior of participants and a full-blown review of the medical system.

Under the plan, the head of the organizing body said between 50,000 and 60,000 tests per day are expected to be conducted on athletes and workers of the games.

The Japanese organizers and the IOC’s Coordination Commission, which oversees the preparations for the games, held their 11th and final meeting before the Olympics open on July 23 following an unprecedented one-year postponement.

“After nearly eight years of hard work and planning, the finish line is within touching distance,” said Coates, head of the IOC commission. “We will continue to work hand in hand with our Japanese partners to do everything possible to deliver a safe and secure games for everyone.”

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