Japanese politics meant ban on overseas Olympic fans was always inevitable

They'll be no international fans at this summer's Olympics and Paralympics with overseas spectators banned from arriving in Japan
They'll be no international fans at this summer's Olympics and Paralympics with overseas spectators banned from arriving in Japan

By James Toney

The formal decision to ban foreign fans from this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics came as no surprise but when the announcement came it still stung.

Most athletes had already planned on travelling without their friends and families to support them, especially considering the restrictions they'll be under as part of their involvement at the Games.

But for Tokyo organisers the long expected news was still a blow, though it also underlined they'll be ruthless in ensuring these Games go ahead in some form or another.

"Whilst it is a very disappointing situation, it does underline the organisers’ determination to stage a safe and secure Olympics,” said a Team GB spokesperson.

"This is very sad news, not only for British fans but particularly for the family and friends of athletes."

The exclusion of overseas spectators is seen as an attempt by Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga not to lose further ground in the polls ahead this autumn's tightly-contested general election.

Already reeling from criticism of the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the prospect of seeing an increase in cases so close to the polls was too great a political - and well as health - risk.

Tokyo was expecting to welcome over one million international travellers, with today’s announcement a further blow to the country's fragile tourism sector.

Even those allowed to travel, such as officials, athletes and accredited media and broadcasters, will be subject to heavy restrictions on their movements, with bans on using public transport and eating in restaurants.

"We know that this is a great sacrifice for everybody. We have said from the very beginning of this pandemic that it will require sacrifices," said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

"Every decision has to respect the principle of safety first. I know that our Japanese partners and friends did not reach this conclusion lightly.

"Together with them, the IOC’s top priority was, is and remains to organise safe Olympic and Paralympic Games for everyone: all the participants and, of course, our gracious hosts, the Japanese people.

"We stand shoulder-to-shoulder at the side of our Japanese partners and friends, without any kind of reservation, to make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 a great success."

Organisers remain confident the event won't be held exclusively 'behind closed doors' but insiders predict there will be limits on the numbers that can attend - though that decision will be left as late as possible.

Officials say ticket holders from overseas will soon be informed about how to secure refunds, though there is some concern that hotels will not be so forthcoming.

About 4.5 million tickets have been bought by Japanese residents with an estimated one million sold abroad, all contributing to a projected overall ticketing income of £575m.

“In many ways the Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different to any previous Games,” said Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto.

“However, the essential of the Games will remain unchanged, as athletes give their utmost and inspire the world with transcendent performances.

“We are currently working on specific plans to share support remotely from around the world and help bring people together in ways suited to our current times.”