For many, the statement from earlier this week was a surprise: "Japanese parties have formulated guidelines for viewers aimed at ensuring that a safe environment exists." Specifically, this involves: Mandatory masks, a ban on loud shouting and cheering, avoiding crowds of people. Exit from stadiums must be staggered. Afterwards, the visitors have gone home on a direct route. Under the circumstances, Tokyo Games organizers revealed Monday, in the stadiums of Olympics up to 10.000 spectators or a capacity utilization of 50 percent allowed.
From the organizer's point of view, it's a success story. Since the March 2020 Games had to be postponed by a year to summer 2021 when the pandemic began to spread, then-ruling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had repeatedly asserted, "There will be no Games without spectators." But the higher the waves of infection hit in all sorts of countries, the higher the stakes also seemed to be on this statement. Probably why an unpopular Shinzo Abe resigned from office last summer.
Olympic Games in the pandemic with spectators "abnormal"
The ie of spectators was thus discussed again, although Abe's successor in office, Suga, did not want any games in front of empty stands either. Yet the attitude of most health experts was clear: against even partially filled stadiums. Not merely independent virologists warned that "Tokyo 2020" could become a superspreader event the more people congregate in a small space. Shigeru Omi, chairman of the government's anti-corona task force, called the plan of Olympic games in a pandemic "abnormal."Then, late last week, he publicly advised against allowing spectators into stadiums.
The caution of the top corona fighter in Japan corresponds to that of the population. Over the weekend, a Kyodo news agency poll found that 86 percent of people in Japan fear a new wave of infections from the Olympics. With around 790.000 infections and 15.000 deaths per 126.5 million inhabitants, Japan has been relatively mildly affected by the pandemic. In a country with a rapidly aging population and relatively few intensive care beds, however, hospitals have been operating at capacity for weeks. In some areas, patients who needed intensive care had to be repeatedly sent home. What's more, barely ten percent of people have been vaccinated yet.
State of emergency lifted in many major cities in Japan
Safety was the "top priority," organizers repeatedly stressed. This is also mentioned again in the letter published on Monday. However, the public also hardly believes in it because the government had already underestimated the risks at the beginning of last year before the Olympics were postponed. Now, a month before the start of the Games, an athlete from Uganda who had already entered the country has tested positive for Covid-19. In addition, a state of emergency that has been in effect since April in Japan's largest metropolises has just been lifted. People are urged to stay at home, stores are not to serve alcohol. The majority of the Japanese public considers its cancellation to be premature. It is not to apply again until the start of the Games.
Meanwhile, organizers desperately needed news that looked like a positive turn in the Olympic chaos. "Tokyo 2020" had promised the public a lot of things, of which hardly anything seems to be deliverable any more. There was, for instance, the economic boom that would come in no small part from tourists. But closing the borders and excluding spectators from abroad were among the first steps the government and organizers decided to take amid the Corona crisis. In any case, it is now known that the organizing committee had already inflated the expected revenues from the Olympics and understated the costs. Now the postponement has made everything even more expensive by around three billion U.S. dollars.
Never were Olympic Games more unpopular
Slogans like "United by Emotion" and "Unity in Diversity" also sound lame to many ears from today's perspective. Never have the Olympic Games been more unpopular than this one in Tokyo, so it's hard to talk about Japan being "on fire" anymore. Added to this is the uncertainty surrounding the tennis player Naomi Osaka. The daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father has been featured in commercials as a poster girl for the games and their diversity mottos. But whether Osaka will be in Tokyo is uncertain.
At the end of May, she withdrew from the French Open after announcing that she would not give interviews after her matches, prompting organizers to fine her. Shortly after, Osaka let the world know via Twitter that she was struggling with depression and wanted "some time off the courts" from now on. This also makes it unclear whether Japan's world's most famous athlete will compete at the Tokyo Games. Because of this uncertainty, the IOC has already announced she will not have to give interviews in Tokyo. Whether she will therefore take up her racket in Tokyo is not yet known.
The only thing that is clear is that spectators will now be allowed into the stadiums. With a catch: if the infection situation worsens significantly by the start of the Games, she will be reconsidered.