TOKYO (AP) — The president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee suggested Friday that even local fans may be barred from entering venues when the games begin in just over two months.
Foreign fans were barred months ago because they were too dangerous during a pandemic
The possibility of empty venues at the postponed Olympics
grew more likely Friday, when the Japanese government decided to extend a state of emergency until June 20 as COVID-19
cases continue to strain the medical system.
The state of emergency was supposed to be lifted on Monday, but the extension in Tokyo, Osaka, and other prefectures raises further concerns about whether the Olympics can be held at all.
Despite polls in Japan showing that 60-80% want the games to be called off, organizers and the IOC insist they will go ahead.
“We would like to make a decision on fans as soon as possible,” organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said at her weekly briefing.
Hashimoto promised to make a decision on local fans by April
, then postponed it until early June, and now the deadline is less than a month before the July 23 release date.
“There are many people
who say that for the Olympic Games
, we have to run without spectators, even though other sports
accept spectators,” Hashimoto said. “We need to keep that in mind, we need to avoid affecting local medical services, and we need to consider those things before agreeing on the spectator count.”
As more questions arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries and territories into Japan, a country that has been largely closed off during the pandemic, the pressure on Tokyo and the IOC to cancel grows by the day.
The International Olympic Committee
(IOC) reports that more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated, and that they will remain largely in a bubble at the village and at venues.
Tens of thousands of judges
, officials, VIPs, media
, and broadcasters will be required to enter Japan in addition to athletes.
“We believe the IOC’s determination to proceed with the Olympic Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence,” the New England
Journal of Medicine wrote earlier this week in a commentary.
It questioned the IOC's so-called Playbooks, which outline rules at the games for athletes, staff, media, and others. The final edition will be published next month. Also this week, the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's second-largest newspaper, said the Olympics should be canceled.
The British Medical Journal asked organizers to "reconsider" holding the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic in an editorial last month.
The head of a small doctors' union in Japan warned on Thursday that holding the Olympics could lead to the spread of coronavirus
variants, citing strains in India
, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.
Japan has attributed approximately 12,500 deaths to COVID-19, a relatively small number that has steadily increased in recent months. Vaccination
rollout in Japan began slowly, but has accelerated in recent days. Vaccinated people are estimated to account for approximately 5% of the population.
The IOC, which frequently cites the World Health Organization
as a source of much of its coronavirus information, has been steadfast in saying the games will take place; it earns about 75% of its revenue from selling broadcast rights, which are estimated to be $2 billion-$3 billion from Tokyo, and that cashflow has been slowed by the postponement.
Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, and government audits indicate that the figure is likely to be even higher.
Senior IOC member Richard Pound told a British newspaper this week that the games will take place “barring Armageddon,” and IOC vice president John Coates was asked last week if the Olympics would take place even if the country was declared in a state of emergency.
He replied, "Absolutely, yes."
In addition, IOC President Thomas Bach has stated that “everyone in the Olympic community” must make sacrifices in order for the Olympics to take place.
The message was met with criticism on Japanese social and local media, with some pointing out that the IOC and the so-called Olympic Family are staying in many of Tokyo's top five-star hotels during the games.
The IOC's leadership was defended by Hashimoto.
“The IOC has a strong determination to hold the games,” she said, adding, “So such a strong will is translated into strong words, and that is how I feel.”