TOKYO -- Organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics on Saturday agreed to hold the games without overseas spectators in an effort to prevent COVID-19 infections.
The "unavoidable decision" was initiated by Japanese government officials, who informed the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees at a Saturday meeting. Foreign arrivals this summer will be limited to athletes and support staff, games officials, accredited media, and sponsors with operational roles at the games.
"The parties on the Japanese side concluded that no free entry from overseas may be granted this summer," Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters after the meeting. "This decision is to give clarity to people so they can still adjust their travel plans at this stage," she added.
Tickets purchased overseas -- about 600,000 for the Olympics and 30,000 for the Paralympics -- will be reimbursed. But hotels and flights separately booked by spectators will be out of scope for reimbursement.
The decision came a day before Japan was due to lift the state of emergency in the Tokyo area. National and city government officials met virtually with Tokyo 2020 organizers, IOC President Thomas Bach and IPC President Andrew Parsons.
Organizers emphasized the decision came out of respect for the people in the host country. "Our first priority remains the safety of all participants of the Olympic games and of course the Japanese people," said Bach. "That means we will have to make difficult decisions, which may need sacrifices from everybody."
The absence of foreign spectators will be a blow to Japan, which has invested more than $12 billion into hosting the Olympics. Tokyo organizers had sold 900,000 tickets overseas and 3.6 million in Japan for the games, prior to reimbursements last December. In the latest budget report, Tokyo 2020 estimated its ticket revenue would be 90 billion yen ($830 million). Overseas ticket sales usually accounted for at least 10% of total ticket sales in past games, thus 10 billion yen of revenue is expected to be lost due to the decision.
Japan's borders have been closed to nonresident foreigners since Jan. 7, when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a second state of emergency following a winter spike of COVID-19 infections. While Japan has created a special entry track for athletes, who need only International Olympic Committee accreditation to enter the host country, spectators entering on tourist visas are another matter.
"We could have waited until the very last moment to decide, but for the spectators for the 2020 games, they have to secure accommodation, flights and so forth. So we decided it would cause a lot of inconvenience for them," said Hashimoto.
It remains unclear whether organizers can restrict the number of spectators at the venue. Japan currently restricts the number of spectators to 5,000 at large events -- less than 10% of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium's 68,000-seat capacity.
Organizers said the final decision on domestic spectators will come in April. If restrictions are set, Tokyo 2020's revenue will be further reduced. This could mean a further investment of taxpayer funding if the Tokyo Metropolitan Government -- or the national government, if necessary -- has to cover the organizing committee's budget deficit.