TOKYO – International viewers will not be able to travel to Tokyo for this summer’s delayed Olympic Games due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Japan International Olympic Committee and local organizers said Saturday.
The risk is too great to accept overseas ticket holders, officials said. The idea was heavily rejected by the public in Japan, where nearly 9,000 people have died and over 455,000 people have contracted the virus.
The decision was announced following an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee and local organizers – a group known as the “Five Parties”.
Calling it a “difficult decision”, IOC President Thomas Bach said, “We have to make decisions that may have to be sacrificed by everyone.”
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, said they could have waited until the last moment to decide but made the decision to unburden viewers with travel plans.
“You need to secure accommodation and flights,” she said. “So we have to make an early decision, otherwise we will cause them a lot of inconvenience. I know this is a very difficult subject.”
In a statement, the “Five Parties” said the decision “will further help ensure safe games for all participants and the Japanese public”.
It is reported that around 1 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets have been sold to fans outside of Japan and organizers have promised refunds, despite being determined by so-called authorized ticket resellers who handle sales outside of Japan.
These merchants charge fees that are up to 20 percent higher than the ticket price, and it is unclear whether the fees will be refunded.
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Overall, Japan officially spends around $ 15.4 billion on organizing the Olympics, although the real cost could double that, according to several government reviews. All but $ 6.7 billion are public money.
Approximately 4.45 million tickets have been sold to Japanese residents and organizers are expected to announce capacity at the venues next month.
The Olympic Games run from July 23rd to August 8th, followed by the Paralympic Games from August 24th to September 5th.
The ban on foreign spectators comes just days before the start of the Olympic torch relay on Thursday in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan – the site of a deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that occurred a decade ago. The relay will last 121 days and cross Japan with 10,000 runners. It ends on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
Around 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, along with other officials and broadcasters, are expected to attend the Games.
NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the US media rights for the upcoming Olympics.
“We will continue to do our utmost to deliver safe games in the hope that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a light of hope for people around the world,” the organizers said in a statement.
Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo and Adela Suliman from London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.