Overseas fans likely ‘no’ for Tokyo Olympics


Tokyo Olympics with no overseas fans Image: Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee

Japan is mulling on allowing limited spectators in the Tokyo Olympics this summer as the country has reported a rise in coronavirus cases again.

Public opinion polls in Japan have suggested persistent concern about the safety of hosting the Games. Tokyo is currently under a ‘state of emergency’ to contain COVID-19 cases, which is about to be extended by two weeks from March 7th. Japan has largely closed its borders to international visitors in order to control the pandemic. This winter, it suffered its biggest and deadliest wave of the virus yet.

As of March 5th, 2021, there were a total of approximately 436.8 thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Japan, with around 12.3 thousand being in need of inpatient treatment.

‘The Mainichi’ reported that Japan is leaning toward limiting spectators at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to people living in Japan to ensure safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be held from July 23rd to August 8th, 2021. The Paralympics Games will be held from August 24th until September 5th, 2021.

The Government was weighing the pros and cons of the limited spectators’ scenario, with the heads of the five organizing bodies of the postponed Olympics and Paralympics agreeing to decide by the end of March whether overseas spectators will be able to attend the sporting spectacle.

‘The Mainichi’ further reported that during the online meeting, the representatives including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach and Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Tokyo Games Organising Committee, also decided to draw a conclusion by the end of April on how many fans will be allowed to support athletes in the stands at each Games venue.

Hashimoto told mediapersons that “top priority” is being accorded to hold safe and secure games for all participants, adding she wants to make the decision on spectators from foreign shores by March 25th, when the Japanese leg of the torch relay is set to begin.

“Also with new variants of the virus, it is an issue that needs careful consideration,” she told mediapersons after the five-party meeting, held recently.

Hashimoto informed that the organizers will place top priority on protecting the health of the Japanese people and people who wish to visit the country for the Games.

With less than five months until the opening of the Olympics, which were postponed for one year due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 which has ravaged the world, some officials have informally started expressing reservations about allowing overseas visitors enter Japan for the sporting extravaganza.

Japanese officials are examining multiple scenarios, including making events a closed door affair and holding them with a limited number of in-venue attendance.

Hashimoto said the representatives did not discuss making the Games a closed door affair during the virtual version, which was also graced by the International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Japan’s Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa.

In his opening remarks, Bach said the organizers will focus on staging “safe, secure and fair competitions for all athletes”. He added that prioritizing anti-virus measures and ensuring the safety of all participants are “key for the success” of the Olympics due to begin on July 23rd, 2021.

“It is our common obligation to secure the safety for everybody including the Japanese people and the population of Tokyo,” Bach said, adding that “the IOC is standing at your side without any kind of reservation”.

Hashimoto, who took on the mantle of the committee in February this year, said at the outset of the meeting that she believes it is necessary for the Japanese committee to study additional COVID-19 countermeasures to address new variants of the virus.

Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures have been under a state of emergency over the deadly virus since January 2021 after logging a total of about 4,000 daily cases of infections.

COVID-19 is truly casting its long shadow on Tokyo Olympics with the Games getting postponed last year due to the fatal virus and now too it is giving sleepless nights to the organizers.

Bach told a presser in late February this year that a decision on whether to allow overseas spectators to enter Japan for the Games could be made in April or early May.

An interim report penned by a Government-led panel, released in December 2020, says that foreign visitors will be exempt from Japan’s 14-day quarantine rule in principle and will be allowed to use public transport during their stay.

To that end, the Government plans to spend 7.3 billion yen ($68 million) for the development of a contact tracing app and require all foreign visitors to download it on their smartphones.

However, the plan has not gone down well with the Opposition lawmakers and critics, who believe the use of the envisioned tool will not be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus and feel that the expensive development will be a drain on the exchequer given the uncertainty shrouding the holding of Olympics.

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