Prepare for the possibility of an Olympics without fans — that seems to be the message coming from the Tokyo 2020 organizers and the International Olympic Committee.

IOC chief Thomas Bach said last week that safety is the top priority, trumping the presence of crowds. Tokyo 2020 boss Yoshiro Mori also confirmed that the organizers are prepping for a sans-fans scenario. But rest assured, he said Tuesday, the games will go ahead in summer “however the coronavirus evolves.”

While the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been the focus of discussions about whether the Games can be held safely, experts tell the JT’s Kaz Nagatsuka that organizers should instead focus on ensuring they have enough PCR tests to go around. Prioritising vaccinations of athletes is a contentious issue, and the Italian Olympic committee, for one, has made clear it won’t ask for its athletes to get shots before others in the country ahead of the Games.

Slideshow: Tokyo's Olympic countdown | REUTERS
Slideshow: Tokyo’s Olympic countdown | REUTERS

All this uncertainty has cast a pall over preparations. Japan’s Olympic sponsors are scaling back ad campaigns and delaying marketing events, concerned that sentiment toward the event is souring.

The pandemic is also demotivating volunteers who offered to help during the Tokyo Games, and preventing the usual interaction between athletes and their host towns that municipalities around Japan were looking forward to.

Even hotel operators have mixed feelings about the Olympics and Paralympics. Some industry officials say the Tokyo Games are indispensable for their survival, but others would rather see a return to a semblance of normalcy than risk an influx of visitors that could trigger another surge in infections and put them back at square one.