Give Olympians a safe welcome by cheering for them on your TV

It is unfortunate that it has become impossible to sit in the stands to watch a sports extravaganza that brings the world’s athletes together. But cheering for the energetic athletes on TV screens and other devices is something that can still be done.

It has been decided that the Tokyo Olympics, whose opening ceremony is set for July 23, will be held without spectators at venues in Tokyo and some other prefectures.

In March, the central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and related organizations gave up on accepting spectators from overseas, and in June, it was decided that the number of spectators would be capped at 10,000 for each venue. Later, the novel coronavirus infection situation worsened, and they were forced to switch to the policy of no spectators. The process of decision making has been hectic.

The delta coronavirus variant that was first detected in India and is considered to be highly infectious is spreading in Tokyo. There has been an increase in the number of infections, and there has also been a rise in the number of hospitalized patients and severe cases. To prevent the further spread of infections, the decision to ban spectators was unavoidable.

Having no spectators at all is stricter than the cap of 5,000 people for other large-scale events, which has been applied under the state of emergency. As the venues for the Olympics are scattered all over the country, it was judged that accepting spectators would inevitably result in the movement of large numbers of people.

When the Tokyo Olympics were postponed last year, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the Games would be held in their “complete form.” However, since then, the government’s poor handling of the virus situation, such as delays in the vaccination rollout, has been conspicuous, and the public’s concerns have not been dispelled.

There must have been many citizens who were looking forward to watching the Olympic events at the venues. The athletes must be disappointed. The government must humbly reflect on its overly optimistic outlook that forced it to change the plans just before the start of the Games.

Even if there are no spectators, tens of thousands of athletes and people involved in the Games will come to Japan from overseas. The athletes will spend their time in areas isolated from the general public, such as competition venues and the Olympic Village, and if they violate the rules, they will be severely punished. But the risk of infection still remains.

Having decided to hold the Games without spectators, the most important task for the time being is to take all possible measures to prevent infections so that the athletes can concentrate on the competition.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has said that it will drastically rethink its security, volunteer, medical and other systems, which had been planned on the assumption that spectators would be allowed. Refunds for the more than 3 million tickets that have been issued must be made without delay.

The issue of how to make up for the loss of ticket revenue due to the absence of spectators will also arise.

The remaining tasks will be challenging, but firstly, no effort must be spared in making the Olympics a success. The two-week period leading up to the opening of the Games is crucial. Making the Olympics safe and secure for the athletes, and ensuring their safe departure from Japan after the Games, is the least of the hospitality Japan can offer.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 10, 2021.