Fans from abroad unlikely for postponed Tokyo Olympics

  • By STEPHEN WADE

The newspaper report came just before Hashimoto’s meeting with Bach. She said a decision on foreign fans will come by the end of the month, and she wants one by March 25, when the torch relay begins from northeastern Japan.

The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23.

“In the current situation it is impossible to bring in foreign spectators,” the Mainichi newspaper said, citing an unnamed government official.

Hashimoto was asked after the meeting how Japan could even consider letting in thousands of overseas fans, given how unpopular the idea is at home where up to 80% want the Olympics canceled or postponed again. Japan has attributed about 8,000 deaths to COVID-19, but has controlled it much better than most countries.

Hashimoto confirmed that the subject of fans was a key part of the “five-party” talks with Bach, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa.

Bach hinted at hard choices to be made in comments before the meeting was closed to reporters.

“We will focus on the essentials,” Bach said. “That means mainly the competitions. This has to be the clear focus. In this respect we may have to set one or another priority.”

The exclusion of foreign fans has been almost a foregone conclusion with the games being held during a pandemic. The Japanese public has been openly opposed to the games, and one sticking point has been the risk presented by visitors entering the country. The other has been the soaring costs.

The games will involve 11,000 Olympic athletes, and later 4,400 Paralympians, and tens of thousands of coaches, judges, sponsors, media and VIPs. Bach said he was encouraged at the number of national Olympic committees that were getting athletes vaccinated. The IOC said it encourages vaccinations but will not require them.

Bach said his hope was “to have as many participants as possible arriving vaccinated to Tokyo.”

“There I can inform you that a considerable number of national Olympic committees has already secured this pre-Tokyo vaccination,” Bach said.

The general plan is to isolate athletes in the Olympic Village alongside Tokyo Bay; put them in a bubble when they arrive, and until they leave Japan.

Hashimoto said a decision on venue capacity will be made by the end of April. She said the “zero-fans option” was not discussed.

“We need to look at the overall situation before we decide on any percentage rates,” she said. “We believe we will not be accepted unless the citizens feel confident that sufficient countermeasures are taken.”

Having fewer fans will be costly. The organizing committee has budgeted income of $800 million from ticket sales. That shortfall will have to be made up by Japanese government entities.

These are the most expensive Olympics on record. The official cost is $15.4 billion, though two government audits suggest it might be almost twice that much. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

The Tokyo Games have been haunted by problems. A bribery scandal tied to the bid in 2013 forced the resignation two years ago of Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda. He denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, former organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign after making sexist comments about women. Essentially, he said they talk too much.

Mori was replaced by Hashimoto, who cautioned on Tuesday of the unpredictable problems that await.

“The biggest challenges is the countermeasures against COVID-19,” she said. “Nobody can foresee how the situation will be this summer.”

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This photo shows the opening remark session of a five-party meeting held by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020) at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. From left are, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, Thomas Bach, back center, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, Seiko Hashimoto, front row, left, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, and Tamayo Marukawa, minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. (Du Xiaoyi/Pool Photo via AP)

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