Tokyo organizers ended months of speculation on Monday by announcing that a maximum of 10,000 fans would be allowed in sports facilities, nearly a month before the postponed global event, adding that competitions could be held behind closed doors in the event of a rise in the number of infections with the Corona virus.
This decision is good news for the athletes, who will have crowd support, albeit relatively faintly compared to previous editions, rather than compete in front of empty stadiums, after the ban on spectators from outside last March.
“In light of government restrictions related to public events, an audience of 50 percent of the facilities’ capacity will be permitted, with a maximum of 10,000 people in all facilities,” the organizers said in a statement.
They added in a statement that the decision on the number of fans who will be allowed to attend the Paralympic Games will be postponed until July 16, a week before the start of the Games.
The officials left the door open to the possibility of holding competitions behind closed doors in the event that the epidemiological situation worsened.
“If there is a drastic change in the number of casualties, we may need to reconsider this issue and consider the option of no spectators in the facilities,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said before announcing the decision.
With the opening ceremony scheduled for July 23, leading medical experts, including government advisers, have already confirmed that holding the Games behind closed doors would be “ideal” from a health point of view.
They fear the throngs of fans could lead to a new surge in infections in a country that is still racing to vaccinate its population.
The decision was made after five-way talks between the Tokyo 2020 organizers and officials from the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.
Speaking before the meeting, IOC President Thomas Bach said he was “absolutely sure that it would be a decision to best protect the Japanese people and all participants”.
– Opposition retreated? –
It was reported that the organizing committee has canceled plans to sell more tickets, and may face difficulties in allowing all those who previously bought them to attend.
Before the Games were postponed last year, organizers sold about 4.45 million Olympic tickets and nearly a million Paralympic tickets. In December, they said they would return 18 percent of Olympic tickets purchased locally and 21 percent for the Paralympic Games.
Japan is relatively less affected by the coronavirus than many other countries, with around 14,500 deaths.
The vaccination campaign has been slower than in many developed countries, but the pace has recently accelerated, with more than 6.5 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
The organizers also face fears and skepticism from public opinion. Polls have often shown that a majority of Japanese support either another postponement of the Games or a complete cancellation.
But recently, new polls indicated that the popular opposition has waned, as a larger section supports holding the Games this summer rather than canceling them, in the event that delaying is not an option.
A survey published Monday showed that about a third of respondents support holding the games, up 14 percent from last month, although the majority still favors delays or cancellations.
Organizers insist that strict rules will keep athletes and the public safe, with Bach saying Monday that “more than” 80 percent of residents in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.
Athletes will be banned from public contact and risk being disqualified from the games if they violate laws, including wearing a mask and being tested daily for COVID-19.
And in what could portend the difficulties and challenges that organizers will face, a member of the Ugandan Olympic team tested positive for the coronavirus upon his arrival in Japan on Saturday.
Reports indicated that all members of the mission had previously received the vaccine and had negative test results before traveling to Japan.
© 2021 AFP