TOKYO – The new president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee stopped short of saying there would be no foreign fans at this year's games, but she certainly hinted at it Wednesday after online talks with IOC President Thomas Bach and others.
The Japanese newspaper Mainichi reported Wednesday that the decision had already been made to exclude foreign fans. It cited only unnamed sources “involved in the discussions.”
“If the situation is tough and it would make the (Japanese) consumers concerned, that is a situation we need to avoid from happening,” organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said.
The newspaper report came just before Hashimoto's meeting with Bach. She said a decision on foreign fans will come by the end of the month, and she wants one by March 25, when the torch relay begins from northeastern Japan.
The Olympics are scheduled to open on July 23.
“In the current situation it is impossible to bring in foreign spectators,” the Mainichi newspaper said, citing an unnamed government official.
Hashimoto was asked after the meeting how Japan could even consider letting in thousands of overseas fans, given how unpopular the idea is at home where up to 80% want the Olympics canceled or postponed again. Japan has attributed about 8,000 deaths to COVID-19, but has controlled it much better than most countries.
Hashimoto confirmed that the subject of fans was a key part of the "five-party" talks with Bach, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa.
Bach hinted at hard choices to be made in comments before the meeting was closed to reporters.
“We will focus on the essentials,” Bach said. "That means mainly the competitions. This has to be the clear focus. In this respect we may have to set one or another priority."
The exclusion of foreign fans has been almost a foregone conclusion with the games being held during a pandemic. The Japanese public has been openly opposed to the games, and one sticking point has been the risk presented by visitors entering the country. The other has been the soaring costs.
The games will involve 11,000 Olympic athletes, and later 4,400 Paralympians, and tens of thousands of coaches, judges, sponsors, media and VIPs. Bach said he was encouraged at the number of national Olympic committees that were getting athletes vaccinated. The IOC said it encourages vaccinations but will not require them.
Bach said his hope was “to have as many participants as possible arriving vaccinated to Tokyo.”
"There I can inform you that a considerable number of national Olympic committees has already secured this pre-Tokyo vaccination,” Bach said.
The general plan is to isolate athletes in the Olympic Village alongside Tokyo Bay; put them in a bubble when they arrive, and until they leave Japan.
Hashimoto said a decision on venue capacity will be made by the end of April. She said the “zero-fans option" was not discussed.
“We need to look at the overall situation before we decide on any percentage rates,” she said. “We believe we will not be accepted unless the citizens feel confident that sufficient countermeasures are taken.”
Having fewer fans will be costly. The organizing committee has budgeted income of $800 million from ticket sales. That shortfall will have to be made up by Japanese government entities.
These are the most expensive Olympics on record. The official cost is $15.4 billion, though two government audits suggest it might be almost twice that much. All but $6.7 billion is public money.
The Tokyo Games have been haunted by problems. A bribery scandal tied to the bid in 2013 forced the resignation two years ago of Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda. He denied any wrongdoing.
Last month, former organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori was forced to resign after making sexist comments about women. Essentially, he said they talk too much.
Mori was replaced by Hashimoto, who cautioned on Tuesday of the unpredictable problems that await.
“The biggest challenges is the countermeasures against COVID-19,” she said. “Nobody can foresee how the situation will be this summer.”
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