Domestic spectators will be allowed to attend Olympic events in Tokyo this summer, the president of the Games announced on Monday, ending months of speculation that athletes could be deprived of a live audience in an effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
The decision settles the last major logistical issue facing the organizers of the Games, which have been delayed for a year because of the pandemic, all but guaranteeing that the event will go forward despite lingering concerns. Spectators from overseas were barred from attending in March in a major concession to the realities of the pandemic.
The president of Tokyo 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, said that the International Olympic Committee had agreed that crowds would be allowed up to 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, up to 10,000 people. However, if the pandemic situation worsens or if emergency measures are declared by the Japanese government, the Games could be held without spectators.
The decision to allow people in Japan to attend events indicates a growing certainty that the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to begin on July 23 and run through Aug. 8, will go on, after months of concern that they could become a superspreader event as athletes and other personnel pour into the city from around the world.
Concerns have diminished substantially in recent weeks as Japan’s virus case numbers drop and vaccination rates skyrocket. After a slow rollout, the country is now administering nearly one million doses of the vaccine every day. About 18 percent of the population has received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 7.3 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
Nevertheless, worries remain. Japan’s top coronavirus adviser, Shigeru Omi, has consistently warned against allowing spectators, which he believes adds an unnecessary layer of risk. This month, organizers said that about 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who signed up to help with the Games had quit, citing fear of infection among their reasons.
As recently as May, a poll showed that 83 percent of people in Japan disapproved of plans to go through with the event. But those numbers have turned around along with the improvement in the country’s virus situation.
Olympic officials said that more than 80 percent of athletes had been vaccinated. Other groups, including staff members, journalists covering the event and some volunteers, will also receive shots.
Conscious of the public’s concerns, Olympic officials have also agreed to strict conditions on the Games. Athletes will be tested regularly for the coronavirus and their movements will be restricted and monitored. Failure to abide by the rules could lead to disqualification or even deportation.
The Games will have rules for spectators aimed at reducing the risks of transmission, including mask wearing, a ban on shouting, and specific guidelines on travel to and from venues.
A panel of expert advisers to the committee told reporters on Friday that the rules were likely to be stricter than those currently in place for other live sporting events, such as baseball.