TOKYO – Foreign spectators will not be able to participate in the Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months, the IOC and local organizers said on Saturday.
The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee and local organizers.
The move was expected and rumored for several months. Officials said the risk was too great to admit foreign ticket holders during a pandemic, an idea that the Japanese public strongly opposes. Japan has attributed around 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living abroad and to allow them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have concluded that they will not be able to enter Japan at the time of the Games. Olympic and Paralympic, ”the Tokyo organizing committee said in a statement.
It is reported that around 1 million tickets have been sold to fans outside of Japan. The organizers have promised refunds, but this will be determined by so-called authorized ticket resellers who handle sales outside of Japan. These dealers charge fees of up to 20% above the ticket price. It is not clear whether the fees will be refunded.
“We could wait until the last moment to decide, except for the spectators,” said Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee. “They have to secure accommodation and flights. So we have to decide in advance, otherwise we will cause them a lot of inconvenience. I know this is a very difficult subject. “
IOC President Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision”.
“We have to make decisions that may require everyone’s sacrifice,” he said.
The financial burden of lost ticket sales falls on Japan. The local organizing committee budget called for $ 800 million in revenue from ticket sales, the third largest source of revenue in the private finance budget. Any shortfall in the budget will have to be covered by Japanese government entities.
Overall, Japan is officially spending $ 15.4 billion to host the Olympics. Several government audits say that the real cost can be double. Everything but $ 6.7 billion is public money.
About 4.45 million tickets were sold to residents of Japan. Organizers are expected next month to announce capacity at the venues, which will be occupied by local residents.
The ban on overseas fans comes just days before the Olympic torch relay begins Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeast Japan. It will last 121 days, traverse Japan with 10,000 runners, and will end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at Tokyo National Stadium.
The relay will be a test for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in which 15,400 athletes entering Japan will participate. They will be tested before leaving home, tested on arrival in Japan, and tested frequently while residing in a secure “bubble” in the Athletes’ Village by Tokyo Bay.
Athletes will not be required to be vaccinated to enter Japan, but many will be.
In the middle of Saturday’s meeting, Bach and others received a reminder about earthquake-prone northeast Japan and Japan in general.
A strong earthquake shook Tokyo and triggered a tsunami warning when Bach and others made introductory remarks before the virtual meeting. The force was set to 7.0 by the United States Geological Survey and the location was in northeastern Japan, an area hit by a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
“I think the screen is shaking. Have you noticed that the screen shakes, ”said Tamayo Marukawa, Japan’s Olympic minister, as she made her presentation from Tokyo speaking remotely with Bach visible on a screen in Switzerland. “Actually, we are in the middle of an earthquake right now.”
Officials said there were no immediate reports of damage.