TOKYO: Up to 10,000 domestic spectators will be allowed in Tokyo 2020 venues, Olympics organisers said on Monday, a decision that cuts against the recommendation of medical experts who said holding the event without fans was the least risky option.
The announcement ends months of speculation and highlights Japan’s determination to push on with the Games and salvage the multi-billion-dollar extravaganza amid public opposition and deep concern about a resurgence in infections.
The decision was widely expected after some recent comments by organisers and as the government’s own medical experts last week appeared resigned to the event going ahead with fans.
Japan has largely avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that have devastated other countries, but the vaccine roll-out was initially 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% of venue capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people”, organisers said in a statement.
But the cheering — for a victory or a plucky underdog — will likely be quelled as shouting will be prohibited. Organisers 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, according to organisers.
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 a sliver of that.
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, called the decision the “last piece” for the Olympics to proceed on July 23.
But as with everything about these Olympics the first postponed in the history of the Modern Games dating from 1896, though previous ones were cancelled during both World Wars the decision raised many questions.
For one, it is not quite what it seems. There will be some wiggle room on the cap, with sponsors and others dubbed “stakeholders” to attend above the 10,000 limit, according to organising committee CEO Toshiro Muto.
Japanese media, for instance, reported that up to 20,000 people might attend the opening ceremony, over and above athletes, though Muto said he thought it would be less than that.
The decision on local fans was announced after so-called Five Party talks online with local organisers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the government of metropolitan Tokyo. A decision on the Paralympics comes on July 16.
And officials left open the possibility of a reversal if the virus rebounds.
“If there should be major dramatic change in the infection situation, we may need to revisit this matter amongst ourselves and we may need to consider the option of having no spectators in the venues,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said he would not rule out holding the Olympics without spectators if the capital was under a state of emergency for Covid-19.
“In the event a state of emergency was declared then we can’t rule out not having spectators,” he told reporters during a tour of vaccination sites in Tokyo on Monday.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2021