Overseas fans barred from Tokyo Olympics over virus fears

TOKYO, JAPAN - 2021/03/15: Japanese flag with Olympic Rings above the entrance to Japan Olympic Museum in Shinjuku. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were moved to be held between 7.23 - 8.8, 2021. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN – 2021/03/15: Japanese flag with Olympic Rings above the entrance to Japan Olympic Museum in Shinjuku. (Photo by Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Overseas fans will be banned from this summer’s pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, organizers said Saturday, in a bid to reduce virus risks and convince a skeptical Japanese public the Games will be safe.

The unprecedented decision will make the Tokyo Games the first-ever held without overseas spectators, as organizers scale back their ambitions for the pandemic event.

When the decision to postpone the Games was taken last year, officials said the delay would allow them to hold the event as “proof of humanity’s triumph over the virus.”

But instead, the Games are shaping up to be a largely televised event for most of the world, with little of the international party atmosphere that usually characterizes an Olympics.

In a statement issued after talks between local organizers, Japanese officials and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs, Games officials said the virus situation in Japan and abroad remained “very challenging”.

“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,” they added.

As a result, “the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they (overseas fans) will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee “fully respect and accept this conclusion,” the statement added, saying refund details would be released soon.

IOC chief Thomas Bach set the stage for the decision at the start of talks between the parties earlier Saturday evening, warning “difficult decisions” would be necessary to ensure safety.

The move had been widely anticipated in recent weeks, with leaks suggesting organizers believe a ban on overseas fans is the only option as they work to make the Games safe despite the pandemic.

The IOC has reportedly sought limited exemptions for some overseas guests, but the rules are likely to be strict.

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto has admitted it will be “difficult” for even the families of foreign athletes to attend.

Just how many domestic spectators will be in venues this summer has yet to be decided.

Organizers originally suggested they would rule on that by April, but Bach has said the decision could be pushed closer to the July 23 opening ceremony.