One of the biggest unanswered questions about the Tokyo Olympics deals with fans.
Will there be any from abroad? And will fans of any sort be allowed in outdoor stadiums or smaller indoor arenas?
“Naturally, we are looking into many different scenarios, so no spectators is one of the options,” organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said Thursday after a video call with IOC President Thomas Bach. “We don’t want to hold the games without spectators, but in terms of simulations we are covering all the options.”
The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers will roll out their “Playbook” next week, a detailed plan about how to hold the games during a pandemic. It will set down strict rules for thousands of athletes arriving in Japan, about being isolated in bubbles, and then leaving the country as soon as they finish competing.
The Nikkan Sports newspaper, without citing sources, said that organizers are expected to announce “soon” that fans from abroad will not be allowed to attend. Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said earlier in the week the decision would be announced “by the spring.”
The 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes will be kept in a sterile bubble in Tokyo. But thousands of others will not, including judges, officials, VIPS, sponsors, and media and broadcasters.
Fans are the most problematic and risky with the Olympics shaping up as primarily a television event. Television money is critical for the IOC, which gets 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights.
The local organizing committee was expected to receive $800 million from ticket sales, its third-largest source of income. Any shortfall is likely to be made up by a Japanese government entity.
Mori described his call with Bach — accompanied by Tokyo CEO Toshiro Muto — as a kind of pep talk. Both the IOC and Tokyo are trying to forge ahead, unveiling their plans and trying to brush off repeated reports of a pending cancellation.
“President Bach gave us his strong stance, and it was a great encouragement to us,” Mori said. “And we are thankful. That is what I told him. Basically that was the main topic of the conversation today.”
Mori was unable to clearly answer a question from a Japanese reporter who asked what he means when he says Tokyo will “hold safe secure games.”
Opinion polls in Japan show the public is against holding the Olympics with about 80% saying they should be postponed or canceled.
“Everybody is hoping to be safe and secure,” Mori replied. “Nobody rides a train hoping to encounter an accident.”
Mori and Muto said Bach asked about vaccine rollouts in Japan, which are expected for health care workers in February and much later for the general population.
The IOC has said it will not require “participants” entering Japan to be vaccinated, but it is encouraging voluntary vaccination. Bach has also said young athletes should not be a priority ahead of health care workers and the elderly.
“It is desirable that many people get vaccinated and it will have positive benefits,” Muto said. “But we have had discussions on the premise that the games can be held without vaccines.”
Former IOC vice president Dick Pound got strong pushback when he said this month that athletes should be a priority for “an international event of this stature, character and level. I don’t think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that.”