Tokyo Olympics unlikely to have foreign fans, but final decision still to come

Liz Roscher
·2-min read

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still set to open on July 23, 2021, but that may happen without any foreign fans in the stands.

Via the Associated Press, newly-minted Tokyo organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto indicated on Wednesday that having foreign fans in the stands at the Olympics was not likely to happen.

“If the situation is tough and it would make the [Japanese] consumers concerned, that is a situation we need to avoid from happening,” Hashimoto said. Surveys have shown that up to 80 percent of people in Japan want the Olympics postponed again or completely canceled.

Hashimoto's comments came after she participated in online five-party talks with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa.

During the media session prior to the meeting, Bach said that everything else is secondary to the competitive events, implying that having fans in the stands isn't a priority.

“We will focus on the essentials,” Bach said via the Associated Press. “That means mainly the competitions. This has to be the clear focus. In this respect we may have to set one or another priority.”

Has the decision already been made?

Hashimoto said that a decision on foreign fans at the games will come by the end of the month, hopefully before the start of the torch relay on March 25. However, Japanese newspaper Mainichi reported via the AP that unnamed sources “involved in the discussions" told them that the decision to exclude foreign fans has already been made.

A different unnamed Japanese government official told Mainichi that “in the current situation it is impossible to bring in foreign spectators.”

Even if the decision about foreign fans hasn't already been made, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Olympics will go on without them. Vaccine distribution is uneven in numerous countries, and even with four months of lead time there's no assurance that it will be markedly better by July. The risk of inviting over 11,000 athletes and "tens of thousands of coaches, judges, sponsors, media and VIPs" is already massive. With a majority of the Japanese people against the games happening in July, inviting foreign spectators seems like a bridge too far.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo 2020, speaks during a five-party meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters in Tokyo on March 3, 2021. (Photo by Du Xiaoyi / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DU XIAOYI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo 2020, speaks during a five-party meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters in Tokyo on March 3, 2021. (Photo by DU XIAOYI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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