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The first Olympic Games ever postponed during peacetime will become the first to be held mostly behind closed doors.

The results of a ticket lottery will be announced Saturday morning to decide what few events fans will be allowed to attend in person after organizers banned spectators at venues in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area due to a fresh state of emergency in the capital.

A limited number of spectators will be allowed at venues in Fukushima, Miyagi, Shizuoka, Ibaraki and Hokkaido.

The loss of ticket revenue — not to mention the added time and money to be spent refunding millions of ticket holders — will cast a heavy burden on the central government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Thursday that a state of emergency in Tokyo — the capital’s fourth — would take effect from Monday until Aug. 22, owing to a resurgence of COVID-19 that began barely a week after the city’s third state of emergency was lifted in June.

Organizers announced later that evening that all spectators would be banned from Olympic venues in Tokyo and three of its neighboring prefectures — Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama — where quasi-emergency measures are in place for the same period.

Only a portion of ticket holders will be able to watch the Tokyo Games in person. | REUTERS
Only a portion of ticket holders will be able to watch the Tokyo Games in person. | REUTERS

“Normally, this would have been a chance for everyone to gather in packed stadiums and enjoy the power of sports together,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said Thursday. “It’s extremely unfortunate the games can’t be held in their complete form, and for that I apologize to the many ticket holders who were looking forward to the games.”

“Moving forward,” she said, “a safe and secure event will be ensured so that the meaning of the Tokyo Games can be delivered to Japan and the rest of the world.”

In Hokkaido, Miyagi, Fukushima and Shizuoka prefectures — where neither states of emergency or quasi-emergency measures are in place — attendance will be capped at 10,000 fans or 50% venue capacity.

Organizers are still considering what to do with spectators for events in Hokkaido after 9 p.m. The marathon, race walking events and soccer matches are set to take place in Sapporo. In Ibaraki, only students with tickets procured by their school will be able to attend.

Attendance had been limited last month to 10,000 fans or 50% venue capacity — whichever figure is lower — in accordance with infectious disease measures set forward by the central government. Organizers had said around 910,000 — or about a quarter of all domestic ticket holders — would lose their tickets as a result.

But even that modest plan was cast aside after a resurgence of COVID-19 in Tokyo, and a rise in cases to various degrees in several large cities throughout the country, convinced officials that stronger measures had to be taken.

Tokyo Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto speaks on Thursday in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI
Tokyo Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto speaks on Thursday in Tokyo. | AFP-JIJI

Olympic and Paralympic ticket sales, profit from which goes mostly to domestic organizers, was expected to be one of the biggest sources of income for the Tokyo Organising Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government.

The ban on overseas spectators earlier this year dealt a serious blow to the ¥90 billion in revenue expected from ticket sales. The exclusion of domestic fans could gut whatever profit remains.

The Tokyo Games have become the most expensive Summer Games in history, according to Oxford University, owing to the costs incurred by the first-ever postponement of the global sporting event in March 2020, and the myriad countermeasures that became necessary as a result of COVID-19.

While domestic attendance had been a fundamental — and controversial — dilemma for organizers, so too is the issue of enforcing virus protocols for tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, political guests and media personnel, and conducting contact tracing if they become infected.

All of the more than 11,000 athletes slated to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games need to be tested twice for the coronavirus before boarding a flight to Japan, be tested daily upon arrival, submit a detailed itinerary of their daily activities, agree to have their location monitored via GPS and, among other things, sign a waiver in case they become infected or die as a result of COVID-19.

Protesters called for the Tokyo Games to be canceled during a demonstration Friday at Komazawa Olympic Park, where a ceremony was held to kick off the last stretch of the torch relay. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Protesters called for the Tokyo Games to be canceled during a demonstration Friday at Komazawa Olympic Park, where a ceremony was held to kick off the last stretch of the torch relay. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

Organizers said failure to comply — not just for athletes but for all personnel and their respective restrictions — could result in a disciplinary warning, temporary or permanent expulsion, monetary fines or the withdrawal of accreditation for members of the media.

The virus has already been detected among a small but growing list of athletes and staff linked to the games. Three tested positive among members of the Ugandan and Serbian national teams, while another 17 staff have tested positive since July 1.

Countermeasures meant to protect participants in the games from the general population, and vice versa, have already begun to unravel.

Meanwhile, officials pledged to inoculate older people by the end of July, but the vaccine rollout is facing a supply crunch in several large municipalities, including Tokyo and Osaka, and some cities have temporarily halted new vaccine reservations.

While Japan’s vaccine rollout has gained momentum, it remains one of the slowest among industrialized nations.

Just over a quarter of the population has received their first dose.

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