Tokyo Olympics to limit fans to 10,000 per venue amid Covid-19 concerns
Up to 10,000 local spectators will be allowed at the Tokyo 2021 venues, the organizers of the Olympic Games said Monday, a decision that goes against the recommendation of medical experts who said the fanless event was the least risky option.
Organizers put a 50% capacity limit – up to a maximum of 10,000 fans – for each Olympic venue, and officials said if coronavirus cases escalate again, the rules could be changed and fans could still be banned all together. . Spectators from abroad were banned several months ago, and now some local fans who have tickets will be forced to give them up.
The decision comes as opposition among Japanese people to holding the Games in July remains high, though it may be weakening, and as new infections in Tokyo have begun to subside.
Still, health officials fear that in a country where the vast majority of people have yet to be vaccinated, crowds at the Olympics could increase the number of cases. The country’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, last week advised that the safest way to hold the Olympics would be without fans. Allowing fans not only poses a risk to the venues, but will also lead to increased circulation on commuter trains, in restaurants and other public areas.
It has already become clear that these Olympics will be unlike any other, but the organizers have said they are determined to hold on to them, and billions of dollars in broadcast rights and ticket sales are at stake. Still, much of the fanfare that surrounds them—people from all over the world rubbing their elbows, a festive atmosphere in the host city, and showcasing the host country’s culture—will be off the table or much more muted this year.
Seiko Hashimoto, the chairman of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, called the decision “the final stretch before the Olympics” to go ahead on July 23.
But as with everything about these Olympics — the first postponed in the history of the Modern Games dating back to 1896, though earlier ones were canceled during both world wars — the decision raised many questions.
First, it’s not quite what it seems. While a maximum of 10,000 fans are allowed at each location, so-called stakeholders — including sports federation sponsors and officials — do not count toward that total, said organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto. For example, Japanese media reported that up to 20,000 people would attend the opening ceremony, in addition to athletes, although Muto said he thought it would be less.
The decision on local fans was announced after so-called Five Party talks online with local organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of metropolitan Tokyo. A decision on the Paralympic Games will be made on July 16.
Hashimoto, meanwhile, left the door open to a fanless Olympics if conditions around the pandemic worsen.
“We have to be very flexible. If there is an abrupt change in the situation, we will again hold five-party meetings to make different decisions,” Hashimoto said. “If a state of emergency is announced during the Games, all options such as games without spectators will be explored. ”
Officials say local fans will follow strict rules. They are not allowed to cheer, have to wear masks and are told to go home immediately afterwards.
“We want people to go straight home from the location without passing by anywhere,” Muto said.
He said there were already 3.64 million tickets in the hands of Japanese residents. He indicated that this was about 900,000 more than the seats likely to be available. That means a lottery to see who can make it.
Tokyo organizers had expected about $800 million in ticket revenue, but Muto said the actual figure would be no more than half that. Any shortfall will have to be taken care of by a Japanese government agency.
The University of Oxford has said these are the most expensive Olympics ever. The official cost is $15.4 billion, but several government audits suggest it may be as much as double. All but $6.7 billion is public money.
The IOC relies on the sale of broadcasting rights for nearly 75% of its revenue. Another 18% is from sponsors. A cancellation would cost the IOC an estimated $3 billion — $4 billion in lost broadcast revenue — a huge blow, especially at a time when revenue streams have already been slowed by the pandemic.
The decision comes just as Tokyo has come out of a state of emergency as the curve of new cases has flattened. The seven-day average for new infections in the city is around 400 per day.
The capital and other areas are now in quasi-emergency status until July 11. The new rules will allow restaurants to serve alcohol during restricted hours, the main result of the reduced restrictions.
In all, more than 14,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in Japan, which has managed the pandemic better than many countries but not as well as some in Asia. The vaccination campaign is lagging behind many Westerners, with about 6.5% of Japanese fully vaccinated and 16.5% having at least one injection.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is in favor of allowing fans in, said before the official announcement that he would ban fans if circumstances change. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike reiterated that.
“If a state of emergency is needed, I will be flexible and not open to fans to ensure that the Games give the highest priority to safety and security of the people,” said Suga.
He said he took Omi’s recommendations “seriously” but did not follow them.
In recent polls, support for holding the Olympics seems to be on the rise, although a majority still seem in favor of postponing or canceling the Games, depending on how the question is framed.