Tokyo 2020: Olympic Games will not have any international fans, organisers announce

International spectators have been barred from travelling to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Games will take place this summer after they postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and although organisers insist the event will still go ahead, it has now been confirmed that only local fans will be admitted to the venues.

“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the Tokyo organising committee said in a statement.

Overseas fans are thought to have bought up around 1 million tickets. Organisers have promised refunds, although these will be handled by the “authorised ticket resellers” which control foreign sales.

“We could wait until the very last moment to decide, except for the spectators,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organising 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.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision”. He added: “We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody.”

The financial implications are enormous for Japan, given that the Games is almost entirely funded by public money. More than £500m is anticipated to be lost by banning foreign fans.

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The total cost of the Games is estimated to finish between £10-20bn, based on latest government audit figures, and the majority of that money has come from the public purse.

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.

In the midst of Saturday’s meeting, Bach and others were given a reminder about earthquake-prone northeastern Japan — and Japan in general. A strong earthquake shook Tokyo and triggered a tsunami warning as Bach and others made introductory remarks before the virtual meeting. The strength was put a 7.2 by the US Geological Survey and the location was in northeastern Japan, an area hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

“I think the screen is shaking. Have you noticed the screen is shaking,” Tamayo Marukawa, Japan’s Olympic minister, said as she made her presentation from Tokyo talking remotely to Bach visible on a screen in Switzerland. “We’re actually in the midst of an earthquake right now.”

Officials there said there were no immediate reports of damage.

The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on 23 July and end on 8 August. The Paralympics, which are also affected by the decision, take place from 24 August to 5 September.

Additional reporting by AP

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