TOKYO (AP) — Fans will be banned from Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas when the Olympics begin in two weeks, the city’s governor said Thursday after meeting with organizers of the pandemic-postponed games.
That means the Olympics will be a largely TV-only event, after the Japanese government put the capital under a COVID-19 state of emergency because of rising new infections and the highly contagious delta variant.
The declaration was made by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and the spectator ban was agreed to by Japanese Olympic organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, and the metropolitan government of Tokyo.
It was a serious blow for Japanese taxpayers and local organizers of the games, which already had been postponed from 2020 by the coronavirus. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket revenue will be lost, and that must be made up by the government. Fans also have endured months of uncertainty about whether the Olympics will go ahead.
“Many people were looking forward to watching the games at the venues, but I would like everyone to fully enjoy watching the games on TV at home,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said after the meeting. “It’s gut-wrenching because many people looked forward to watching at the venues.”
Fans from abroad were banned months ago, and the new measures will mean no spectators in stadiums and arenas around Tokyo — both indoor and outdoor venues.
The ban covers Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures — Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. A smattering of events in outlying areas, like baseball in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, will allow a limited number of fans.
The state of emergency begins July 12 and runs through Aug. 22. The Olympics, which open July 23 and run through Aug. 8, fall entirely under the emergency period, while the Paralympics open Aug. 24.
“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said.
In principle, the July 23 opening ceremony at the new $1.4 billion National Stadium will be without paying fans, although some dignitaries, sponsors, IOC officials and others will be allowed to attend.
About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, along with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters and media. The IOC says more than 80% of Olympic Village residents will be vaccinated.
Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.