Organizers have confirmed that the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held without foreign fans and volunteers, dealing a huge blow to an event that had already sold around 900,000 tickets to overseas visitors.
The Japanese and Tokyo governments and the International Olympic Committee are among the bodies to have reached the painful decision on the postponed games, which are due to run from 23 July to 8 August.
The budget for the Games is already thought to have hit around $15 billion, making the announcement of refunds for supporters who had snapped up tickets around the world a further damaging prospect for the troubled showpiece.
“It has never happened that foreign spectators were banned from entering the host country at the time of the games, even during the Spanish flu at the time of the Antwerp 1920 Olympic Games,” said Jean-Loup Chappelet, a Lausanne-based professor and Olympics expert, speaking to Yahoo.
BREAKING: Overseas fans banned from Tokyo Olympics over virus concerns. Wow. We knew it was coming but still unprecedented moment.
— Sara Hussein (@sarahussein) March 20, 2021
“Even for Athens 1896, the Cook agency organised ‘packages’ for those who wanted to attend the first modern games.”
Fans who bought tickets for the Paralympics, which are set to take place between 25 August and 5 September, will also be offered refunds, with the rest of the world watching at home while the Japanese buyers of around 4.5 million tickets attend.
Japan has had a relatively low death toll during the pandemic, although the country has recorded more than 454,300 COVID-19 cases, leading to almost 9,000 deaths.
Yes, totally understandable. I know there are worse things going on at the moment but I am gutted for Tokyo. I had a feeling they were going to put on an amazing Games and now international fans won’t get to share that. 😕
— Hayley Mullins (@HaykeyM) March 20, 2021
Polls have suggested that 80 percent of Japanese people do not want the games to go ahead, with some voicing fears that an influx of foreign visitors could accelerate infections.
A raft of athletes have withdrawn from the torch relay, which is due to start next week, because of fears over attracting crowds against the backdrop of the vaccination program just starting in Japan, and there are expected to be difficulties around allowing athletes’ entourages to attend with them.
There have also been a series of controversies around the games, most recently when a creative chief stepped down after being found to have suggested that a plus-size comedian could act as an “Olympig”.