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Japan Limits Local Fans for Tokyo Olympics

The president of the 2020 Olympic Games announced that although domestic spectators will be allowed to attend Olympic events this summer in Tokyo, Japan, there will be a limit on spectator capacity.  

The announcement—made by Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo 2020—ends months of speculation over whether athletes would compete in empty venues. The 2020 Games, which were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were rescheduled for 23 July through 8 August. 

The International Olympic Committee agreed to allow arenas and facilities to open at 50 percent capacity or up to 10,000 spectators—whichever is less, according to NPR. In an effort to mitigate the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus, spectators must wear masks and follow specific guidelines on arriving at and departing from the venues. Spectators are also banned from shouting during the events.

The capacity allowance could scale down depending on the severity of the pandemic, and if the Japanese government declares emergency measures, then no spectators would be allowed entrance to the games.  

The New York Times reported that virus case numbers in Japan continue to decrease while vaccination rates keep climbing.

“After a slow rollout, the country is now administering nearly 1 million doses of the vaccine every day," according to the Times. "About 18 percent of the population has received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 7.3 percent are fully vaccinated.”  

However, concerns remain over the Olympics’ potential to become a superspreader event, given that roughly 100,000 athletes and others, not including spectators, will already be entering the city for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lifted a third state of emergency for the country and some pandemic restrictions only last week.  

The country’s lead coronavirus adviser, Dr. Shigeru Omi, warned against hosting spectators, and roughly 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers that help with the Olympics resigned out of fear of infection.  

The Associated Press (AP) reported that along with the Japanese medical community largely opposed to the Olympics, medical publications The Lancet and The New England Journal criticized the World Health Organization and other global medical experts for remaining silent on recommendations on the 2020 games.

The AP also said that some regional newspapers have called for canceling the Olympics, and The Economist noted that Ashai Shimbun, the official media partner of the 2020 games, has also been critical of the decision to continue with the event this year. Leading up to this announcement, Japanese citizens have signed petitions and protested against hosting the Olympics altogether, with some polls indicating that as much as 83 percent of the populace want the games canceled or postponed.  

Only the International Olympic Committee has the power to cancel the games, and if the host country cancels them, they are responsible for compensating the committee.

“Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion but government audits suggest it’s twice that much,” the AP reported. “...Estimates suggest a cancellation could cost the IOC $3 billion-$4 billion in lost broadcast rights income.” 

Back in April, The British Medical Journal also called for organizers to reconsider hosting the Olympics this year, noting that “very little has been said officially about the Paralympic Games and how to protect the health and rights of people with disabilities during international competition.”

As part of its “Debatable” newsletter, the Times pointed out that, “To some, the games are a much-needed symbol of global solidarity....(and athletes) stand perhaps the most to lose.” The article also said that there are several other public health experts who think the Olympics could be safely hosted, just like National Basketball Association and National Hockey League were able to safely conduct seasons prior to a COVID-19 vaccine.  

“The Summer Olympics are virtually the only event that truly unites the globe in friendship,” an opinion piece from The Washington Post noted. “An estimated 3.6 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, watched the 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro. Athletes from 87 countries won medals at those games, giving joy to citizens from small and low-income countries. The burst of global confidence that can arise from a successful Olympics is incalculable.”   

NPR also said that the announcement to allow spectators to the games coincided with the first report of an athlete traveling to the Olympics testing positive for COVID-19. The Ugandan athlete tested positive at an airport outside of Tokyo and was denied entry into the country.