Overseas fans will be barred from this year’s pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics because of continuing coronavirus concerns, organisers announced on Saturday.
The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and local organisers.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the Tokyo 2020 organising body said in a statement.
The IOC and IPC “fully respect and accept this conclusion”, the statement added.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed last year to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan has attributed about 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.
About one million tickets are reported to have been sold to fans from outside Japan while 4.45 million tickets were sold to Japan residents.
“We could wait until the very last moment to decide, except for the spectators,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organising committee. “They have to secure accommodations and flights. So we have to decide early otherwise we will cause a lot of inconvenience from them. I know this is a very tough issue.”
IOC President Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision”.
“We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody,” he said.
AP Sports journalist Stephen Wade, speaking to Al Jazeera from Tokyo, said that the polls indicated more than 70 percent of Japanese people “did not want overseas fans here”.
“The economic impact … is very small. This is an economy with five or six trillion dollars GDP/GNP,” Wade said. “The Olympics are small potatoes, it’s a couple of weeks, it doesn’t have much effect.”
He said the organising committee, however, will be affected.
“Ticket sales are the third largest income source, almost $800m, they’re going to lose a big chunk of that in refunds,” Wade said.
The financial burden of lost ticket sales falls on Japan. Overall, Japan is officially spending $15.4bn to organise the Olympics. Several government audits say the actual cost may be twice that much. All but $6.7bn is public money.
Meanwhile, British taekwondo athlete Lutalo Muhammad, said despite the absence of foreign fans, he was happy that the games are still going ahead.
“For me, one of the biggest things about the Olympics is having that support,” he said, referring to “family and friends flying from home”.
“An Olympics without that is going to be weird, but let’s face it, it’s been a very weird year,” Muhammad said.
Organisers are expected next month to announce the capacity at venues, which will be filled by local residents.
The ban on fans from abroad comes just days before the Japanese Olympic torch relay starts in the eastern Fukushima prefecture on Thursday.