Spectators from abroad will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics when the Games get staged four months from now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and local organisers said on Saturday.
The announcement came after a virtual meeting of the stakeholders -- the IOC, the Japanese government, the International Paralympic Committee, and the local organisers. The move, though disappointing, was not a surprise. It was expected that the organisers of the Games would take such a drastic measure since there was increasing demand within Japan to either postpone or completely cancel the Games.
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The officials, while announcing the decision, said that the risk to admit fans from abroad to stadiums was too high with the pandemic still raging across the world despite vaccination. The Japanese public had expressed their reservations though the country has dealt with and controlled the pandemic better than most nations.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the Tokyo organising committee said in a statement.
Ticket sales have already happened and it is reported that about a million tickets have been procured by fans from outside Japan. Organisers have promised refunds, though it would be a complicated process as that would involve Authorized Ticket Resellers who had handled sales outside Japan. Tokyo organisers believe that announcing the decision now is in the best interest of everyone involved.
“We could wait until the very last moment to decide, except for the spectators," said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee. "They have to secure accommodations and flights. So we have to decide early otherwise we will cause a lot of inconvenience from them. I know this is a very tough issue.”
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The IOC also expressed its disappointment that such a measure had to be taken. “We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody,” said president Thomas Bach.
The move would cause a huge financial hit for the organisers, besides the subduing of the festival-like atmosphere during the Games.The local organizing committee budget had estimated an earning of $800 million from ticket sales. Any shortfall in this will have to be borne by the Japanese government.
Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics. However, several government audits say the actual cost may be double of that. Out of which $6.7 billion is public money. With the postponement from 2020, the bill has escalated further.
The ban on fans \comes just days before the Olympic torch relay starts. It begins next Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan and will last for 121 days, travelling through Japan with 10,000 runners. The relay will end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
With fans being absent, there is a considerable ease of logistical pressure on the Japanese authorities. They, however, will have to organise tests and secure bubbles for the athletes coming in. The Olympics and Paralympics will see about 15,400 athletes entering Japan. They will be tested before leaving their respective countries, tested on arrival in Japan, and tested frequently while they reside in a secure “bubble” in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay.
Organisers have said that the athletes will not be required to be vaccinated to enter Japan.
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