Tokyo Bars Spectators From Olympics Due To COVID-19
By Cana Yao
As Japan enters its fourth state of emergency due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the delta variant, the organizers of the Olympic Games have made their decision to bar all spectators from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Hours after Japan’s prime minister Yohishide Suga declared Tokyo’s fourth state of emergency due to the spread of the delta variant, slow vaccination rates, and an overall surge in COVID-19 cases, the Tokyo Olympic Committee outlined their spectator ban. Torch-lighting ceremonies will also be held without spectators, and spectators have been told to stay away from events like marathon and race walking. The TOC’s President, Seiko Hashimoto, sympathizes with the thousands of fans and athletes who will be disappointed by this decision, which comes only two weeks before the scheduled opening of the Olympic Games on July 23. “I am very sorry for those people who will be disappointed,” she said at a news conference. “But in order to prevent the spread, this was the only choice available for us to take. I hope that you understand the difficult choice that we made.”
A seven-time Olympian herself, Hashimoto promised that Japan would make sure that “fantastic performances” can be enjoyed all around the world. The International Olympic and Paralympic Committees said that they respect Japan’s decision and “support it in the interest of safe and secure Games for everybody.”
Between ticket refunds and disappointed sponsors, it seems that the decision to ban spectators will take a toll on Tokyo’s already strained budget. Stadiums which cost billions to build will remain mostly empty during the Games.
However, many support Japan’s announcement, which comes in the wake of health concerns and backlash related to postponing the games by one year instead of two. Last month, a group of top health advisers said that a spectator-free Olympics would be the "least risky" option. The Japanese government’s top health adviser, Shigeru Omi had also been pushing to ban spectators before the Tokyo Olympic Committee made its move, saying that “we are asking many people to take steps to prevent further spread of the infection.” “Images of spectators would be sending out a contradictory message,” he said.
Although many athletes and fans are understandably disappointed, most of this year’s Olympians have grown used to competing in empty venues, and knew that they wouldn’t have fans, friends, and family watching them. As American swimmer Simone Manuel put it, “we always enjoy the fans.” However, “at the end of the day, when you dive in, it’s about swimming fast and getting your hand to the wall."