TOKYO, JAPAN – FEBRUARY 11: A man wearing a face mask walks past the Olympic Rings on February 11, … [+]
Despite all odds, the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics appear to be on track to be staged this summer, in their new window of July 23 through August 8.
The overseas athletes participating in this year’s Games, however, will not hear the cheers of their friends and family as they compete.
On Saturday, the Japanese organizers within the Five Parties (the Olympics stakeholders, including International Olympic Committee [IOC], the International Paralympic Committee [IPC], the Tokyo Metropolitan Government [TMG], the Organising Committee Tokyo 2020 and the Government of Japan) informed the others that they had reached the decision to bar overseas spectators from attending the Games this summer.
There were hints of this decision back on March 3, when the parties announced that a final decision regarding overseas spectators would be announced by the end of March.
In a statement, the organizers said:
“Currently, the COVID-19 situation in Japan and many other countries around the world is still very challenging and a number of variant strains have emerged, whilst international travel remains severely restricted globally. Based on the present situation of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that entry into Japan will be guaranteed this summer for people from overseas. In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure Games for all participants and the Japanese public.”
The IOC and IPC released a statement shortly after the news broke supporting the decision, which read, in part, “For the reason of the safety of every Games participant and the Japanese people, their conclusion is fully respected and accepted by the IOC and the IPC.”
However, it’s a significant turnabout for the IOC; as recently as November, president Thomas Bach claimed he was “very confident” the Olympics could host spectators (not restricted to domestic ones only) and that the IOC would undertake a “great effort” to vaccinate or encourage to get vaccinated as many Olympic participants and spectators as possible before the Games.
A poll by national broadcaster NHK found that about 80 percent of Japanese residents opposed holding the Games and thought they should be canceled or further postponed.
Despite the short window until the Games, Japan’s vaccination effort has lagged behind that of many other major countries, including the United States and United Kingdom; its vaccine program started in mid-February, per CNN.com. By the end of February, only about 18,000 doses had been administered.
Even if overseas spectators had been allowed at this year’s Games, they would have found a drastically different environment than any prior Olympics. In early February, organizers launched the first of a series of official Covid-19 “playbooks” with guidelines for staging the Games safely. They called for no cheering, no singing, no handshakes and no using public transportation, among other restrictions.
According to organizers, 600,000 tickets were sold to would-be attendees from outside Japan. Refunds were promised; however, according to Toshiro Muto, CEO of the organizing committee, organizers were not responsible for refunding canceled flights or hotel reservations.
Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), said in a tweet Saturday the decision was “disappointing news for our Team USA community, yet we understand that safety has to be the priority.”
In a longer letter to Team USA athletes and community, Hirshland wrote, “The grief, frustration and disappointment being felt by all whose plans have been ruined is understandable. It is truly sad that the families, friends and fans from around the world, who help make the Games a global celebration, will not be able to attend. We can only try to imagine the weight of the responsibility felt by the hosts—along with the IOC and IPC—to offer the participants and the host community the safest possible environment, and we acknowledge that safety has to be the priority.”
This summer, 15,400 athletes will enter Japan for the games. It is not a requirement that they are vaccinated, but many are arriving from countries whose vaccine programs will make it possible for them to receive their shots prior to traveling to Tokyo. Athletes will be tested upon arrival and throughout their time in Japan and will reside in a bubble in the athletes village.
I have been writing about action sports and the Olympics and Paralympics for more than a decade, having covered Summer and Winter X Games, Summer and Winter Olympics and