Where EAST meets the Northwest
An athlete is inoculated with Chinaís Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at a hotel
turned into a temporary vaccination center, on May 28, 2021 in Manila, the
Philippines. Several Filipino athletes, coaches, and other delegates were
vaccinated in preparation for their travel to the Tokyo Olympics and Southeast
Asian Games in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
People wearing face masks walk across an intersection with a metropolitan
government vehicle displaying awareness for the coronavirus variant N501Y seen
in background in Tokyo on May 28, 2021. Japan extended a coronavirus state of
emergency in Tokyo and other areas for 20 more days on Friday, with infections
not yet slowing to levels that would allow it to safely host the Olympics, which
is scheduled to open on July 23, 2021. The words in red read "N501Y variant is
spreading." (Kyodo News via AP)
Tokyo Olympics looking more and more like fan-free event
By Stephen Wade
The Associated Press
May 29, 2021
TOKYO (AP) ó The president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has
hinted that even local fans may be barred from venues when the games open in
just under two months.
Fans from abroad were ruled out months ago as being too risky during a
The prospect of empty venues at the postponed Olympics became more likely
when the Japanese government decided Friday to extend a state of emergency until
June 20 as COVID-19 cases continue to put the medical system under strain.
The state of emergency was to have been lifted on Monday. The extension in
Tokyo, Osaka, and other prefectures raises even more questions if the Olympics
can be held at all.
Organizers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are insistent they
will go ahead despite polls in Japan showing 60% to 80% want them called off.
"We would like to make a decision as soon as possible (on fans), but after
the state of emergency is lifted we will assess," organizing committee president
Seiko Hashimoto said at her weekly briefing.
Hashimoto promised to decide on local fans by April, then put it off until
early June. Now the deadline is within a month of the July 23 opening date.
"There are many people who are saying that for the Olympic Games we have to
run without spectators, although other sports are accepting spectators,"
Hashimoto said. "So we need to keep that in mind. We need to avoid that the
local medical services are affected. We need to take those things into
consideration before agreeing on the spectator count."
Cancellation pressure grows daily on Tokyo and the IOC as more questions
arise about the risks of bringing 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from
more than 200 countries and territories into Japan, a country that has been
largely closed off during the pandemic.
The IOC says more than 80% of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic
Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated. They are expected to remain largely in
a bubble at the village and at venues.
In addition to athletes, tens of thousands of judges, officials, VIPs, media,
and broadcasters will also have to enter Japan.
Earlier this week, the New England Journal of Medicine said in a
commentary: "We believe the IOCís determination to proceed with the Olympic
Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence."
It questioned the IOCís so-called Playbooks, which spell out rules at the
games for athletes, staff, media, and others. The final edition will be
published next month. Also this week, the Asahi Shimbun ó the countryís
second-largest newspaper ó said the Olympics should be cancelled.
The British Medical Journal last month in an editorial also asked
organizers to "reconsider" holding the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic.
On Thursday, the head of a small doctorsí union in Japan warned that holding
the Olympics could lead to the spread of variants of the coronavirus. He
mentioned strains in India, Britain, South Africa, and Brazil.
Japan has attributed about 12,500 deaths to COVID-19, a relatively small
number that has gone up steadily in the last few months. The vaccination rollout
began slowly in Japan, but has moved more quickly in the last few days.
Vaccinated people are estimated at about 5% of the population.
The IOC, which often cites the World Health Organization as the source of
much of its coronavirus information, has been steadfast in saying the games will
happen. It receives about 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, which
is estimated to be $2 billion to $3 billion from Tokyo. That cashflow has been
slowed by the postponement.
Japan itself has officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, and
government audits suggest the figure is even higher.
Senior IOC member Richard Pound told a British newspaper this week that
"barring Armageddon," the games will take place. Last week, IOC vice president
John Coates was asked if the Olympics would open, even if there were a state of
"Absolutely, yes," he replied.
IOC president Thomas Bach has also said "everyone in the Olympic community"
needs to make sacrifices to hold the Olympics.
The message got pushback from Japanese social and local media, some of which
noted that the IOC and the so-called Olympic Family are booked into many of
Tokyoís top five-star hotels during the games.
Hashimoto defended the IOCís leadership.
"The IOC has a strong determination to hold the games," she said. "So such a
strong will is translated into strong words. Thatís how I feel."
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