Security officers stand guard next to Olympic Rings monument during an anti-Olympics rally outside the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters in Tokyo, June 14 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO
Security officers stand guard next to Olympic Rings monument during an anti-Olympics rally outside the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters in Tokyo, June 14 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ISSEI KATO

Tokyo — Even as several events in the run-up to the Olympics were cancelled and the number of domestic spectators capped, Ryuichi Ishikawa had clung to hope that he would be in the stands to cheer on Japanese track and field athletes.

But his hopes and that of other ticket holders were dashed on Thursday after organisers banned all fans from events and Japan extended a Covid-19 state of emergency in the host city, Tokyo, which will end after the July 23-August 8 Games.

“First there was the announcement they’d cap spectators at 10,000, then I was hoping I’d still have a ticket after the lottery,” said Ishikawa, referring to a planned draw for seats.

“I thought ‘oh crap’ when the number of new daily cases hit more than 900 in Tokyo yesterday. I just got this feeling of dread,” added Ishikawa, a Tokyo resident.

Tokyo reported 920 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the most since May. The decision to ban spectators is the latest blow to fans after a year’s postponement due to the pandemic, a steady downscaling of events, banning of foreign fans and then the cap on domestic spectators. A majority of Japanese still oppose holding the Games amid the pandemic and a slow vaccine rollout.

Ishikawa, who works at an electronics firm, has been to four other Games and had planned to volunteer at the Tokyo torch relay. He had spent ¥80,000 (about R10,500) on tickets. Revenue from Olympics ticket sales was originally projected at about $815m. The Olympics budget has ballooned to over $15bn, more than twice as much as the figure estimated when bids were put in to hold the Games.

Other ticket holders were also saddened. “It’s really regrettable they haven’t been able to stamp out infections here,” said Keiko Otsubo, a woman in her 40s who works for an IT firm and had planned to watch the triathlon.

“If they’d been able to get vaccinations over earlier we could’ve been like the US and other places, where everybody's now going out to sports events just like normal.”

About a quarter of Japan’s population has been given at least one vaccine dose, according to a Reuters tracker. Some fans were upset the final decision on spectators came just two weeks before the start of the Games.

“I’m really annoyed at how long it's taking organisers to decide,” said Shota Tabara, who spent ¥100,000 (about R13,000) on tickets to track, volleyball and basketball.

Others said they were now opposed to the Games and would not go even if they could, pointing to media reports that VIPs and some sponsors may still be allowed in to events such as the opening ceremony.

“It seems like bringing in all these people is just the perfect virus stew to produce another variant or spread the ones we already have,” said Alison, a teacher and long-term Scottish resident of Japan.

She had planned to take her parents to the Games and bought nine tickets. She declined to give her last name. “I think a lot of people feel it's kind of clear that it's one rule for the people at the top and something else for everyone else.” 

Reuters

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