Ticket holders for the Tokyo Olympics expressed disappointment on Thursday at organizers’ decision to hold competitions in the capital and nearby prefectures without spectators due to a recent spike in COVID-19 infections
“I’m so disappointed,” said 69-year-old Masamichi Tamai, who had tickets for five events, including track and field and tennis. Tamai, who was a spectator at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, added he had been looking forward to experiencing the unique atmosphere of the games again.
“They say we’re at the beginning of the fifth wave, so who knows what will happen?” he said, “In hindsight, they did it all wrong. I think we could have postponed it for another year, but there was nobody who could plan it.”
As Tokyo grapples with a resurgence of infections, the government decided Thursday to put the capital under a fresh state of emergency from Monday to Aug. 22.
Organizers then decided to stage the Olympics, which begin on July 23, without local fans at venues in Tokyo after having already banned spectators from overseas.
Kyoko Ishikawa, who runs an IT company in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, expressed disappointment at the decision since she finally managed to obtain a ticket for the wrestling competition in the second lottery round.
“It’s such a shame (my plans) were interrupted despite the venue being so close to home,” said the 51-year-old, who has been an Olympics fan since the 1992 Barcelona Games. “There must be something we can do together because it’s the Olympics. I would like to think of a way to support (the athletes) online with people from all over the world.”
Revenue from Olympic ticket sales was originally projected at around $815 million. The Olympic budget has ballooned to over $15 billion, more than twice as much as the figure estimated when bids were put in to hold the games.
Other ticket holders were also saddened.
“It’s really regrettable they haven’t been able to stamp out infections here,” said Keiko Otsubo, a woman in her 40s who works for an IT firm and had planned to watch the triathlon.
“If they’d been able to get vaccinations over earlier we could’ve been like America and other places, where everybody is now going out to sports events just like normal.”
Around a quarter of Japan’s population has been given at least one vaccine dose, according to a Reuters tracker.
Some fans were upset the final decision on spectators came just two weeks before the start of the games.
“I’m really annoyed at how long it’s taking organizers to decide,” said Shota Tabara, a 29-year-old who spent ¥100,000 on tickets to track, volleyball and basketball.
Others said they were now opposed to the Olympics and would not go even if they could, pointing to media reports that VIPs and some sponsors may still be allowed into events like the opening ceremony.
“It seems like bringing in all these people is just the perfect virus stew to produce another variant or spread the ones we already have,” said Alison, a 42-year-old teacher and longtime Scottish resident of Japan.
She had planned to take her parents to the games and bought nine tickets. She declined to give her last name.
“I think a lot of people feel it’s kind of clear that it’s one rule for the people at the top and something else for everyone else.”
Meanwhile, sports ruling bodies expressed their disappointment at the decision of organizers ban spectators from the games, but understood Japan’s need to take drastic action to curb the spread of COVID-19.
World Athletics, the sport’s governing body, said athletes have become used to competing in stadiums that are not packed but that they would have loved to see “noisy fans” in Tokyo.
“This is disappointing for everyone,” World Athletics said in a statement. “For the people of Tokyo and Japan, the chance to see the world’s best athletes competing in the flesh is an opportunity that does not come around very often. We, of course, need to listen to, and abide by, the decisions that individual countries make because this virus is impacting countries and regions differently and they have access to all the information and the science. What all of us in sport must focus on is making brave decisions which are usually tough ones.”
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) said it was expecting a capacity of 5,000 spectators and 2,500 spectators respectively on the two pitches.
“Whilst we of course regret that the current sanitary situation prevents from hosting the games with spectators, we fully understand and support the decision taken by the Japanese authorities and organizers as well as the IOC,” the FIH said.
Husain Al-Musallam, president of swimming’s world governing body FINA, said his organization had hoped to see the arena filled at a capacity not less than 50%.
“But this decision is of course for Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese authorities,” Al-Musallam said. “At the same time, FINA hopes to see spectators attending the games and FINA hopes this can happen by July 23. Athletes will still have engaging ways to interact with their home countries and fans, and FINA is confident that aquatics athletes will still provide a great competition for the world to watch from their own homes.”
The move to bar spectators marked a sharp turnaround from as recently as last week, when officials were still insisting they could organize the games safely with fans in attendance. Foreign spectators had already been excluded from the games, which were postponed by a year.
Germany’s athletes’ association Athleten Deutschland said the organizers’ decision was “both reasonable and appropriate” in view of the pandemic.
“The Olympics must not accelerate the infection rates nationally, nor must they become a global superspreader event,” it said. “Generally, the organizers must spare no costs and efforts as part of their duty of care to reduce the risk of infection for those involved by all means and measures. This also applies to hygiene and safety rules.”
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