No spectators from abroad at the Tokyo Olympics

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The organizers decided on Saturday: there will be no spectators from abroad at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics this summer, a decision unprecedented in Olympic history, but “inevitable” because of the pandemic which dragged on.

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The various Japanese officials of the organization have come to the conclusion that spectators “will not be able to enter Japan at the time of the Olympic Games”, scheduled from July 23 to August 8, according to a statement.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) “fully respect and accept” this conclusion, it is specified.

As the health situation in Japan and abroad remains “very difficult”, it is “highly unlikely” that access to Japan will be guaranteed this summer for visitors from abroad, the organizers said.

Their press release was released after an online meeting between the five Games stakeholders: the Organizing Committee and the City of Tokyo, the Japanese government, the IOC and the IPC.

“Our priority has been, is and remains the safety of all participants in the Olympic Games and of the Japanese people,” Thomas Bach, IOC President, said at the outset of the meeting, referring to “sacrifices on the part of everyone”.

Tokyo-2020 President Seiko Hashimoto spoke of a “very disappointing” but “inevitable” decision.

“This is news that we hoped never to see happen,” responded the US Olympic delegation.

Financial puzzle

Denis Masseglia, the president of the French Olympic Committee, expressed his sadness “not to have the French supporters alongside the France team in Tokyo, but we support the important efforts made by the Japanese authorities and the organizing committee. to ensure the running of the Games in the best possible sanitary conditions and allow our athletes to make us dream ”.

“It never happened that foreign spectators were banned from entering the host country at the time of the Games, even during the Spanish flu during the Olympic Games in Antwerp in 1920”, according to Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor emeritus at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and specialist in the Olympic Games.

A headache is looming to reimburse tickets sold outside Japan and face this significant shortfall, while the Tokyo-2020 budget has already reached 13 billion euros, a record for the Summer Olympics.

Some 630,000 tickets were to be sold overseas through resellers for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, organizers said on Saturday, but the figure has become increasingly unrealistic in recent weeks.

Another decision is expected to be made in April, or even later, on the gauge of Olympic venues for the public residing in Japan.

Further draconian measures against COVID-19 are planned to ensure a “safe environment” for the Tokyo Games, which were postponed for a year last year due to the pandemic.

Vaccination of participants will not be compulsory, but the IOC strongly encourages it.

The Tokyo Olympics will especially focus on television, whose broadcasting rights are crucial for the IOC’s finances.

Japanese “anxiety”

Since their forced postponement a year ago – another historic first, in peacetime – the Tokyo Olympics have given rise to a semantic shift reflecting the persistence of the global health crisis (appearance of variants, resurgences of the virus and reconfinements in some countries), despite the arrival of the first vaccines.

Last summer, the organizers still wanted to make these Olympics a celebration of “the victory of humanity over the virus”.

But their rhetoric has radically changed in recent weeks by now insisting on “the anxiety” of the Japanese and “the priority” to give to their security.

Japan has so far mastered the health crisis better than other countries, but has seen an upsurge in infections between November and the end of January, forcing the government to temporarily reimpose a state of emergency over much of the country. , including in Tokyo.

The Japanese government launched a vaccination program in February, but which so far only concerns healthcare workers. Most of the country’s population should not be vaccinated by the Olympics.

For several months, Japanese public opinion has been overwhelmingly hostile to holding the Games this summer, preferring a further postponement or outright cancellation.

And a poll published on March 8 by the daily Yomiuri revealed that only 18% of Japanese people were in favor of allowing spectators coming from abroad for the Games.