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June 22, 2021

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Tokyo to limit spectators at Games venues

Olympics organizers yesterday capped the number of spectators at 10,000 for each venue at the Tokyo 2020 Games, days after experts warned that holding the event without fans would be the least risky option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision, widely expected following comments by both organizers and government medical advisers, highlights Japan’s push to salvage the multi-billion-dollar extravaganza amid public opposition and deep concern about a resurgence in infections.

Japan has largely avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that have devastated other countries, but the vaccine rollout has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in some places.

The limit for the Games, scheduled to begin on July 23, “will be set at 50 percent of venue capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people,” organizers said in a statement.

But the cheers that greet a victory or the performance of a plucky underdog could be quelled as shouting will be prohibited. Organizers also said masks would be required and spectators be requested to travel directly to venues and go straight home.

Numbers could be further reduced after July 12, depending on whether “quasi emergency” COVID-19 measures, due to expire the day before, are extended or due to any other anti-infection measures in force at the time, organizers added.

Spectators from overseas have already been banned. The national stadium, built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and due to host athletics and soccer this time, would have held 68,000 fans but now will be at less than 15 percent capacity.

However, TV deals, such as that with NBCUniversal for 17 nights of US prime-time coverage, will ensure the Games are beamed around the world.

Some of the country’s top health experts said late last week banning spectators would be the least risky option.

“It would be preferable to have no audience from the standpoint of infectious disease control,” Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and researcher at Keio University, said before the decision.

“I am concerned not just about the increase in the number of people coming to watch the Olympics itself but also about the loosening of people’s sense of urgency by hosting the Olympics with spectators.”

Some 65 percent of the public want the event postponed again or canceled, a poll by broadcaster Asahi News Network found. Nearly 70 percent said they thought the Games would not be held safely and securely, the poll showed.

Ticket revenues are likely to be reduced by more than half from an earlier expected 90 billion yen (US$817.14 million), Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told a briefing. He said he wanted to discuss with the Tokyo and national governments on how to cover the shortfall.

Initially organizers sold some 4.48 million tickets and the government had expected a windfall for tourism. Some 840,000 tickets have since been refunded, but the caps mean another decrease, bringing the total number down to 2.72 million tickets, Muto said.

The announcement followed five-way talks among Tokyo 2020 organizers, the Japanese government and that of the capital, Tokyo, and the international Olympic and Paralympic committees.

Before the meeting, IOC President Thomas Bach said the vaccination rate for athletes and officials residing in the Olympic village was now “well above 80 percent,” exceeding the IOC’s initial expectations.

Last week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided to lift a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo and eight other prefectures that had suffered a resurgence.


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