TOKYO (NewsNation Now) — International spectators will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months, the International Olympic Committee and local organizers said Saturday.
The move was expected and rumored for several months. Officials said the risk was too great to admit ticket holders from overseas during a pandemic, an idea strongly opposed by the Japanese public. Japan has attributed about 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.
Organizers said 600,000 tickets were sold to fans from outside Japan. They have promised refunds, but this will be determined by so-called Authorized Ticket Resellers that handle sales outside Japan. These dealers charge fees of up to 20% above the ticket price. It is not clear if the fees will be refunded.
“We could wait until the very last moment to decide, except for the spectators,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee. “They have to secure accommodations and flights. So we have to decide early otherwise we will cause a lot of inconvenience from them. I know this is a very tough issue.”
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, seemed to rule out fans entering who may have received tickets from deep-pocketed sponsors.
“If they are part of the operation of the games, if they are somewhat involved in the operation then there is still a possibility they may be able to enter into Japan,” Muto said. “But solely as spectators for watching games — no, they will not be allowed to make an entry.”
Hashimoto, who appeared in seven Olympics as an athlete — she won bronze in speedskating in 1992 — said there was pressure to wait longer to make a decision. But she said fans could now plan. She also lamented the move.
“So the fact that spectators are not able to attend the games from abroad — that is very disappointing and it’s regrettable,” she said. “It was an unavoidable decision.”
IOC President Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision.”
“We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody,” he said.
The ban on fans from abroad comes just days before the Olympic torch relay starts Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan. It will last for 121 days, crisscross Japan with 10,000 runners, and is to end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The relay will be a test for the Olympics and Paralympics, which will involve 15,400 athletes entering Japan. They will be tested before leaving home, tested upon arrival in Japan, and tested frequently while they reside in a secure “bubble” in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay.
Athletes will not be required to be vaccinated to enter Japan, but many will be.
The Olympic Games are now scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 8, and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.