TOKYO • Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics agreed yesterday to stage the Games without spectators, after Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency for the capital city that will run throughout the event.
The widely expected move came following talks between the government, Games organisers and Olympic and Paralympic representatives. Officials are still discussing the status of events to be held outside Tokyo.
It was regrettable that the Games will be held in a limited format, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto told a briefing, while apologising to those who had bought tickets.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was essential to prevent Tokyo, where the highly infectious Delta Covid-19 variant was spreading, from becoming the source of another wave of infections.
The ban all but robs the Tokyo Games of their last hope for pomp and public spectacle. Once seen as a chance for Japan to stand large on the global stage, the showpiece event was delayed by the pandemic last year and has been hit by massive budget overruns.
Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators would be the least risky option, amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
New daily cases in Tokyo could rise to 1,000 this month and 2,000 in August, increasing the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds, according to recent projections from Kyoto University Associate Professor Yuki Furuse, who is working with the government's Covid-19 experts.
Sponsors are cancelling or scaling back booths and events tied to the Games, frustrated by the "very last-minute" decisions by organisers, sources told Reuters.
Underscoring the last-minute nature of preparations, organisers had presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Sponsors were told that in the case of no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.
The absence of crowds will likely further strain the Games' budget, which has already blown out to an estimated US$15.4 billion (S$20.8 billion), with ticket revenues of about US$815 million expected to dwindle to close to zero.
COST OF TOKYO'S PANDEMIC-DELAYED SUMMER OLYMPICS
The projected bill for postponement has risen to US$3 billion (S$4.06 billion), from an earlier estimated US$2.8 billion, in addition to the original estimated cost of US$15.4 billion to stage the Summer Games.
Initially expected at about 90 billion yen (S$1.11 billion) but will now drop to virtually nothing.
More than 60 Japanese companies together paid a record of over US$3 billion to sponsor the Games. Sponsors paid another US$200 million to extend contracts after the Olympics were postponed.
HIT TO THE ECONOMY
In 2019, Japan hosted 31.9 million foreign visitors, who spent nearly 4.81 trillion yen (S$59.2 billion). The numbers plunged 87 per cent in 2020 to just 4.1 million, a 22-year low.
The organising committee did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive Covid-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.
A slow vaccine roll-out has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one Covid-19 shot.
Tokyo's new state of emergency comes as it announced 896 new daily infections yesterday, near highs last seen in mid-May. The new restrictions in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22. The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug 8.
Until this week, officials had insisted that they could organise the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Mr Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.
Japan will hold a parliamentary election this year and the government's insistence that the Games should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.