The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will take place in 2021, but fans will no longer be a part of the atmosphere. Organizers announced the decision Thursday after local officials extended the state of emergency in the region through August 22, which will span the entirety of the Olympic schedule – July 23-August 8.
“A very heavy judgement was made,” following meetings between Olympic officials and members of the Japanese government, according to Seiko Hashimoto of the Japanese Olympic Committee. The ongoing concerns of the pandemic have given officials “no choice but to hold the Games in a limited way.”
Organizers had announced in March that international fans would not be allowed, but planned on allowing domestic spectators at the events. Hopes were high that barring international fans would minimize the potential for a spike in COVID cases related to the games. But a slow vaccine rollout has kept case numbers at a persistently higher level than hoped, and numbers have been on the rise in the region, leading to the decision.
“The number of infected cases in the area including Tokyo has been increasing since the end of last month,” Prime Minister Yoshide Suga said. “The number of severe cases and bed occupancy rate continues to be on the low level, but considering the impact of variants, we need to enhance countermeasures so that the infection will not spread nationwide.”
Reporting on the decision does indicate that some events held outside of greater Tokyo, such as the Marathon, might allow some number of spectators. Twenty five of the 42 venues involved in the Games are within the Tokyo area impacted by the emergency declaration, with 17 taking place in other prefectures.
Just two weeks before the games are set to take place, the decision is monumental in terms of the revenue model for the hosts. Previous reports have indicated that a decision to bar fans entirely might lead to a government bailout to make up for the enormous budget shortfalls involved in refunding thousands of tickets. The games are already facing a huge wave of backlash from the Japanese people. A survey taken in May by a Japanese newspaper showed 43 percent of respondents believed that the Olympics should be cancelled entirely, with another 40 percent believing they should be postponed once more. Just 12 percent surveyed said the games should go on as planned.