The Tokyo Olympics will limit spectators to 10,000 people per venue to reduce the risk of the world’s biggest sports games turning into a superspread event.
The number will either be set at 10,000 or 50 percent of the event’s capacity, whichever is smaller, said organizing committee chief Seiko Hashimoto on Monday at a press conference after a meeting of the five parties responsible for the games.
That means the Japanese National Stadium, which is scheduled to host the opening ceremony on July 23, will be used to less than a sixth of its full capacity of 68,000 people. The organizers already announced in March that foreign viewers would be excluded from events. Pressure to reduce the number of local fans had grown amid the resurgence of virus cases and public opposition to the hosting of the Games.
Tokyo and other urban areas ended the state of emergency on Sunday, with targeted restrictions in place for some regions until July 11. Spectators could still be banned if the government resumes emergency conditions, organizers said in a joint statement.
The government said last week that it would support a public events limit of 10,000 that could be applied to the Olympics, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would like to see fans in the stands for the Games.
The Olympics, postponed for a year because of the pandemic, appear to be on track, although polls show large numbers of the Japanese public are keen to cancel or postpone the event. While Japan has by far the fewest registered COVID-19 cases among countries in the Group of Seven, the spread of more contagious variants has raised concerns in a country where vaccinations have been slow.
Risk of contagion
Shigeru Omi, chairman of the Japanese government advisory council on coronavirus, said on Friday it was preferable to hold the games without spectators in order to minimize the risk of contagion.
“This is different from ordinary sporting events in terms of size and interest,” Omi told reporters. If fans are allowed, their numbers should be more strictly limited than at other events, and only people who live on-site should be eligible, Omi said.
Most of the audience will be from the greater Tokyo area, said Toshiro Muto, chief executive officer of the organizing committee, at the briefing on Monday. They are selected through a lottery, he added.
An increase in infections in April has already had an impact on pre-game events. Osaka canceled the Olympic torch relay on public roads, other regions followed suit. Some test events were postponed or held without spectators, and qualifying events around the world were also affected.
Even with limited audience numbers and the exclusion of foreign fans, many people from more than 200 countries will still come to Tokyo – each with different transmission rates, vaccinations and virus variants. Organizers said around 53,000 officials and others, excluding athletes, are expected from overseas.
The Tokyo Olympic Committee in December estimated total ticket sales at about 90 billion yen ($ 820 million), or about 12 percent of the total expected revenue from the Games. The majority of sales were made by domestic viewers, with only about 9 percent of the 10 million tickets originally expected to be sold to foreign fans, the Nikkei newspaper reported in March.