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Editorial: In expected absence of foreign spectators, Tokyo Games should prioritize safety

  • March 6, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

It appears the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will forego accepting spectators from overseas. Leaders of related organizations, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, spoke over the issue and reportedly shared the same perception. An official decision is due at the end of this month, when the torch relay is set to begin.


Allowing some 1 million foreign visitors into Japan for the games could result in a further spread of the coronavirus and provide a path for variant strains to enter the country.


The Olympics are at their heart a place for people across the world to deepen bonds of friendship. But under the present circumstances, it is an appropriate choice to refrain from accepting spectators from overseas.


The Japanese government probably wanted to turn demand brought by inbound tourists into an opportunity for economic recovery. But with no immediate prospects of infections being contained, the decision on whether to accept them was delayed.


National polling by the Kyodo News agency in February found that just 14.5% of respondents wanted the Olympic and Paralympic Games to go ahead this summer, and volunteers and torch-relay runners have stepped down in succession. From abroad, the view of the situation is harsh, with one British newspaper even publishing a column saying the time has come for the Olympics to be canceled.


It appears that the move not to accept foreign guests is aimed at dispelling anxiety at home and abroad and restoring support for the games to be held.


If a decision to give up on accepting spectators from overseas is made, the issue then shifts to questions over what limits will be placed on domestic spectators. A ruling on this is expected by the end of April, after consideration is made for the current state of sports in Japan.


Currently, spectator numbers in areas under a state of emergency are capped at 5,000 people or up to 50% of the venue’s capacity — whichever is lower. Even if the state of emergency is lifted, some kind of fixed limit on spectators is likely unavoidable.


It’s conceivable that organizers will be forced to hold a spectator-less games, depending the state of infections going forward.


If fan numbers are significantly reduced, it will bring about the need for another lottery among ticketholders to whittle down who can attend, and for refunds to individuals who aren’t chosen. It won’t just mean proceeds from ticket sales will fall; it will also force amendments of plans pertaining to security, volunteers, logistics and accommodation. But time is limited.


Details also need to be finalized on infection prevention plans for the tens of thousands of athletes, sports organization executives, media professionals and others expected to take part.


Regarding the future response on spectators and other issues, Hashimoto said, “We want to make decisions carefully, based on scientific knowledge.” It is imperative that the organizers prioritize safety in society when making decisions.

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