TOKYO (AP) – The chairman of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee hinted on Friday that even local fans could be banned from venues when the games open in just under two months.
Fans overseas were shut out months ago as being too risky during a pandemic.
The prospect of empty venues at the postponed Olympics became more likely when the Japanese government decided on Friday to extend the state of emergency until June 20, as cases of COVID-19 continue to strain the medical system.
The state of emergency was to be lifted on Monday. The expansion to Tokyo, Osaka and other prefectures raises even more questions whether the Olympics can take place.
Organizers and the IOC insist they will move forward despite polls in Japan showing 60-80% want them canceled.
“We would like to make a decision as soon as possible (on the fans), but once the state of emergency is lifted, we will assess,” Organizing committee chairperson Seiko Hashimoto said in her weekly briefing.
Hashimoto has promised to speak out on local fans by April, and then postpone it to early June. Now the deadline is within a month of the July 23 opening date.
“There are a lot of people who say that for the Olympics we have to run without spectators, although other sports accept spectators,” Hashimoto said. “So we have to keep that in mind. We must prevent local medical services from being affected. We need to take these into consideration before agreeing on the number of spectators.
Cancellation pressure increases daily on Tokyo and the IOC as more questions arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries and territories to Japan, a country that has been largely closed during the pandemic.
The IOC says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Tokyo Bay Olympic Village will be vaccinated. They should largely remain in a bubble in the village and on the sites.
In addition to the athletes, tens of thousands of judges, officials, VIPs, media and broadcasters will also have to enter Japan.
Earlier this week, the New England Journal of Medicine said in a comment: “We believe that the IOC’s determination to host the Olympics is not based on the best scientific evidence. “
He questioned the so-called IOC Playbooks, which set out the rules of the games for athletes, staff, media and others. The final edition will be released next month. Also this week, the Asahi Shimbun – the country’s second largest newspaper – said the Olympics should be canceled.
The British Medical Journal last month also called on organizers to “reconsider” hosting the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic.
On Thursday, the head of a small doctors’ union in Japan warned that holding the Olympics could lead to the spread of variants of the coronavirus. He mentioned strains in India, Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
Japan has attributed around 12,500 deaths to COVID-19, a relatively low number that has steadily increased in recent months. The rollout of vaccination started slowly in Japan, but has accelerated in recent days. People vaccinated are estimated at around 5% of the population.
The IOC, which often cites the World Health Organization as the source of much of its coronavirus information, has repeatedly said the games will take place. It derives about 75% of its revenue from the sale of broadcast rights, estimated at between $ 2 billion and $ 3 billion from Tokyo. This cash flow was slowed down by the postponement.
Japan itself has officially spent $ 15.4 billion or hosted the Olympics, and government audits suggest the figure is even higher.
Senior IOC member Richard Pound told a UK newspaper this week that “except Armageddon” the games will take place. Last week, IOC Vice President John Coates was asked if the Olympics would open, even in a state of emergency.
“Absolutely, yes,” he replied.
IOC President Thomas Bach also said that “everyone in the Olympic community” must make sacrifices to organize the Olympics.
The post was rebuffed by Japanese social and local media, some of which noted that the IOC and the so-called Olympic Family were booked into many five-star hotels in Tokyo during the games.
Hashimoto defended the leadership of the IOC.
“The IOC is determined to organize the games,” she said. “So such a strong will translates into strong words. This is how I feel. “
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