One of the devastating impacts of COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping sports activities indoor; denying fans the contagious pleasure that comes from watching games in large numbers in stadia.
Last year, the Tokyo Olympic Games was postponed following precautionary safety protocols to contain the spread of the virus. The aim was to wait on the hope that the pandemic will be defeated early enough to give way to formal Olympic events that will involve spectatorship in 2021.
Although the wait partially paid off, the 2021 summer Olympics and Paralympics will be held after all despite having been so close to cancellation, the problem of spectatorship remains.
The host nation Japan has made a decision to hold the big sports event without overseas spectators. For home spectators, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said a decision on spectators would be made by the end of March.
“The organizing committee has decided it is essential to hold the ceremony in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima behind closed doors, only permitting participants and invitees to take part in the event, to avoid large crowds forming amid the pandemic, Japanese local media Kydo News reported on Tuesday.
The Olympic is scheduled to hold July 23 to Aug. 8 and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
Japan is one of the nations most infected by COVID-19. The Asian country has so far recorded more than 441,000 and the organizing committee said rate of infection is an integral factor in their decision making.
“A decision would be made based on factors including the state of infections in Japan and other countries, possible epidemic-prevention measures, and expert scientific advice,” the committee said.
The torch relay, which is also going to be held without spectators, will hold on March 25, and Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said she wants the decision made before the relay.
In the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (Rio 2016), there were 60,000 spectators in the stadium as the games opened. Spectatorship has always been a major part of the games, not only because it cheers athletes up, but also because the organizers derive huge revenue from the ticket sales.
In Rio 2016, 88% of the 6 million tickets were sold, while the London Games 2012 and Beijing Games in 2008 recorded 90% ticket sales. Local ticket sales had in the past accounted for 70-80% of the ticket sales. For instance, local fans accounted for 80% of all ticket sales in the last Olympic Games, the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sebastian Coe who headed the 2012 London Olympics, and currently the president of World Athletics, said the goal has always been to ensure the best possible games for the athletes and having full stadiums of passionate people.
“With all the work being done around vaccinations and the huge sacrifices large parts of the world have made over the last year, I would hope the fans (both home and overseas) will be able to attend. Of course it would be better,” he told Reuters.
“However, if local communities are concerned, then athletes will accept that and it is a trade-off they are prepared for it,” he added.
A survey carried out by a newspaper, Yomiuri showed that the majority of Japanese people don’t want spectators at the games.
The survey showed 77% of respondents voting no to allowing foreign fans to attend the games while 18% voted yes. On the other hand, 48% voted against allowing any spectators into game venues while 45% voted in favor.
Ticket sales have been expected to yield $800 million, accounting for 12% of the organizing committee’s budget, according to figures released in December.
But Japan has recorded more than 8359 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and Tokyo is still under state of emergency. Therefore, the locals are concerned that allowing foreign spectators will aggravate the third wave of the pandemic that the country is currently grappling with.
However, Japan and the Olympic committee will have to accept the huge loss emanating from indoor games, if the choice of the locals is to be accepted.