Overseas fans will be banned from this summer’s virus-delayed Tokyo Olympics, organisers said Saturday, calling the decision disappointing but “unavoidable” as they try to hold the Games safely during the pandemic.
The unprecedented ban will make the Tokyo Games the first ever without overseas spectators, with organisers scaling back their ambitions for the pandemic event.
Once billed as a party to celebrate “proof of humanity’s triumph over the virus”, the Games are instead shaping up to be a largely television event, with little of the international party atmosphere that usually characterises an Olympics.
In a statement issued after talks between local organisers, Japanese officials and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs, Games officials said the virus situation in Japan and abroad remained “very challenging”.
They said it was “highly unlikely” Japan could guarantee overseas visitors entry by the summer, and therefore the ban on spectators from abroad was necessary.
Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto admitted the decision had not been easy.
“I myself was an athlete. I had the pleasure of participating in the Olympics a number of times. So the fact that spectators are not able to attend the Games from abroad is very disappointing,” she said.
But, she added: “We have to ensure a safe and secure environment for all the participants. It was an unavoidable decision.”
In a statement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee voiced their disappointment at the ban, but said they “fully respected and accepted” the decision.
They stressed that all tickets to the Games already purchased by overseas residents would be refunded.
The US Olympic team called the decision “news we hoped would never come”, adding in a statement that it would “continue to advocate for opportunities for American fans to experience the Games in person”.