Overseas fans banned from Tokyo Olympics

Overseas fans will be banned from Tokyo Olympics, calling the decision disappointing but "unavoidable" as they try to hold the Games safely during the pandemic.

Overseas fans will be banned from this summer’s virus-delayed Tokyo Olympics, organisers said Saturday, calling the decision disappointing but “unavoidable” as they try to hold the Games safely during the pandemic.

The unprecedented ban will make the Tokyo Games the first ever without overseas spectators, with organizers scaling back their ambitions amid the pandemic.

Once billed as a party to celebrate “proof of humanity’s triumph over the virus,” the Games are instead shaping up to be a largely television event, with little of the international party atmosphere that usually characterizes an Olympics.

In a statement issued after talks between local organizers, Japanese officials and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs, Games officials said the virus situation in Japan and abroad remained “very challenging.”

They said it was “highly unlikely” Japan could guarantee overseas visitors entry by the summer, and therefore the ban on spectators from abroad was necessary.

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto admitted the decision had not been easy.

“I myself was an athlete. I had the pleasure of participating in the Olympics a number of times. So the fact that spectators are not able to attend the Games from abroad is very disappointing,” she said.

But, she added: “We have to ensure a safe and secure environment for all the participants. It was an unavoidable decision.”

The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee voiced their disappointment at the ban, but said they “fully respected and accepted” the decision.

They stressed that all tickets to the Games already purchased by overseas residents would be refunded.

Organizers had planned to sell 630,000 tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics to overseas fans, but that has looked increasingly unrealistic in recent weeks.

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics will refund around 600,000 tickets for the Games and another 300,000 for the Paralympics, the chief executive of the organizing committee said.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said they would not be announcing how much the refunds would cost.

Leaks ahead of the talks made clear organizers were leaning against allowing fans from abroad, and IOC chief Thomas Bach set the stage earlier Saturday, warning “difficult decisions” would be necessary to ensure safety.

The IOC has reportedly sought limited exemptions for some overseas guests, but the rules are likely to be strict. Hashimoto admitted last week it will be difficult for even the families of foreign athletes to attend.

Just how many domestic spectators will be in venues this summer has yet to be decided. Organizers originally suggested they would rule by April, but Bach has said the decision could be pushed closer to the July 23 opening ceremony.

Whatever they decide, there’s no doubt that barring overseas fans will make the Games a very different event from years past.

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