Tokyo Olympics president defends decision to allow spectators amid public frustration

Construction workers are seen around spectators' seat area in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
REUTERS/Issei Kato

With 30 days to go until the start of an Olympic Games dogged by the coronavirus pandemic and by controversy, Tokyo Olympics President Seiko Hashimoto defended the organizers’ decision to allow spectators into Olympic venues.

Japanese medical experts said last Friday that banning spectators was the least risky option but also included in their report recommendations on how to host the Games if spectators were admitted.

Organizers said on Monday up to 10,000 domestic spectators would be allowed into venues. Foreign visitors are banned.

“We decided that it would be better to do the best preparations we can for a Games with spectators,” Hashimoto said at a media roundtable attended by Reuters on Tuesday, saying the decision was in line with the medical experts’ recommendations.

“Of course, I understand that holding the event without spectators would lower the risk, but there is evidence that there have been no clusters at other events and tournaments,” Hashimoto said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has still not ruled out holding the Games without spectators if Tokyo is put back under a state of emergency, from which it only emerged on June 21. The Games’ opening ceremony is set for July 23.

Over the past year, organizers have pushed ahead with preparations for the Games, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, despite strong concerns among the Japanese public that hosting thousands of delegations from across the globe could result in further outbreaks of COVID-19 infections.

BACKLASH

Much of Japan remains skeptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down Games safely during a pandemic.

The announcement on spectator caps and media reports that organizers were considering allowing alcohol consumption in Olympics venues provoked a public backlash on Tuesday, with the hashtag “cancel the Olympic Games” garnering tens of thousands of tweets.

Tokyo 2020 decided against selling alcohol at the venues following the backlash, Kyodo news agency reported late on Tuesday.

In another blow to organizers’ pledge that the Games will be safe, a member of the Ugandan delegation who arrived in Japan on the weekend tested positive for coronavirus despite having been vaccinated and testing negative for COVID-19 before arrival.

The nine-strong delegation canceled their plans to train and are currently quarantining in a hotel, local media reported.

Hashimoto said the incident was proof of the effectiveness of the coronavirus measures in place.

“We were able to identify this person at the border precisely because we have the proper border measures in place,” she said.

But the arduous preparations for the Olympics also appeared to have taken their toll on organizers.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike was hospitalized on Tuesday, Kyodo reported, citing unnamed sources. The metropolitan government said earlier on Tuesday evening that she would take the rest of the week off due to fatigue.

Reuters

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