Excluding overseas spectators part of Japan’s duty to ensure safe Games

A great deal will be lost, but in order to realize a safe event, the decision can be said to have been inevitable. It is important to prevent another surge in infections with the novel coronavirus and increase the certainty that the event will be held.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has agreed with other related entities, including the Japanese government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to give up on accepting general spectators from abroad. The 630,000 tickets sold overseas reportedly will be refunded.

The number of visitors to Japan during the Olympics was expected to be on the level of 1 million people. The cancellation of tickets will greatly reduce event revenues. The airline and accommodation industries, among others, will be dealt a blow, and opportunities for international exchange also will be lost. It will no longer be possible for the event to be held in the “perfect form” that the various related entities were aiming for.

But given the current situation, the risk in drawing overseas visitors to Japan is too great. Coronavirus variants have been wreaking havoc throughout the world, with a cumulative total of more than 120 million cases of infection.

Unlike the athletes, who will face strict restrictions on their behavior after entering Japan, it would be difficult to even keep track of spectators’ movements in Japan. By giving up on accepting foreign spectators, fears will be reduced of a rapid spread of infections due to an influx of variants.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the Games are sure to be held. Calls persist for their cancellation or postponement, due to fears that the coronavirus will spread as a result of holding the Games. It is necessary to further strengthen countermeasures and steadily eliminate factors that give rise to concern.

For the time being, the top priority is to prevent a “fourth wave” of infection. It is vital to implement thorough tests for the coronavirus and strategically secure enough hospital beds and medical systems. The central and local governments also need to closely cooperate in promoting vaccinations.

Test events serving as dress rehearsals for various sports will resume in April. It is hoped that measures to prevent infections will be carefully checked, not only at the event venues but in various other situations as well — such as when athletes and others involved in competitions are traveling and staying at accommodation facilities — in order to improve response capabilities in the event that cases of infection are discovered among them.

The organizing committee intends to set an upper limit on the number of spectators in Japan in April. It should flexibly deal with the issue while ascertaining the situation. Efforts should be made to take thorough steps against the coronavirus for the tens of thousands of foreign athletes and event officials who are coming to Japan.

It is also necessary to devise ways for those who cannot come to Japan to experience the true joy of the international event in some fashion.

Scandals involving the organizing committee continue. Following the resignation of former President Yoshiro Mori, the creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics has stepped down for having made a derogatory proposal involving a popular female entertainer. The ceremonies, which embody the Olympic ideals, attract worldwide attention. The preparatory system must be rebuilt as soon as possible.

The torch relay will begin on March 25. It is hoped that people who support the Games will also take precautions against infection and get through the remaining four months until they begin.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 23, 2021.