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Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organising Committee president Seiko Hashimoto speaks during a press conference in Tokyo on July 9, 2021, two weeks before the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. (Photo : CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
The Tokyo Olympics suffered yet another blow as the global sporting showpiece will now take place without fans and spectators in the host city of Tokyo, organizers announced in a statement on Thursday.
The move follows Japan’s decision to declare a state of emergency in the city of Tokyo from July 12 to August 22, covering the 16 days of the Olympics in its entirety. The Games will begin on July 23 and end on August 8.
Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto made the announcement at a news conference following a decision by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the government of Japan, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee. He told reporters that “The priority will be to determine safe and secure Games.”
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“We wanted a full stadium so community people could get involved in welcoming the athletes so we could have a full presentation of the power of sports. However, now faced with COVID-19 we have no other choice but to hold the Games in a limited way,” she later added.
The decision caught many by surprise as some officials insisted that they could organize the Olympic Games safely with some fans as recently as last week. The highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus altered those plans as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo from becoming a flashpoint of new infections.
Medical experts have warned for weeks that having no fans and spectators at the Tokyo Olympics would be the least risky option for the Japanese population amid public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials from countries all over the globe will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor, working with the government’s COVID-19 experts group, supported the organizers’ decision to hold the Games without fans, saying, “I, of course, support ‘no spectators’ but concerns will never disappear as long as we have a big event like the Games, along with holidays and the vacation season.”
Furuse recently projected that new daily cases in Tokyo could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August with the holding of the Games, raising the risk of hospitals located in the capital running out of beds.
Some Olympic events can still be held with fans
A total of 42 venues are listed on the Tokyo 2020 website for the Olympic events. Some 25 of those are located in Tokyo, and the rest are in seven other prefectures. According to Hashimoto, three other prefectures near Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama, will also have no spectators at their Olympic competition venues.
There are still some places, though, where fans will still be allowed. Miyagi, Fukushima, and Shizuoka prefectures have decided that venues in their jurisdiction can be filled to 50% of their capacity with a maximum attendance of 10,000 spectators.
Toshiro Muto, the chief executive officer of Tokyo 2020, also said in the press conference that IOC members and National Olympic Committee (NOC) executives would not be counted as spectators and they will have continued access to venues as they have “roles to play during the Games.”
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