Tokyo Olympics: A Games without overseas visitors looks a pragmatic call

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Olympic flavour is back in Tokyo as a Japanese flag, along with the symbolic rings, are seen on the Japan Olympic Museum building in Tokyo in January.
Image Credit: AFP

A Olympic Games – speaking from whatever experience I have – turns the venue city into a world in a microcosm. It will not be the case this time as the organisers of Tokyo Olympics announced their inevitable decision of not allowing overseas visitors at the ‘greatest show on earth’ in July-August.

It’s a terrible feeling nevertheless, but the all the five stakeholders have perhaps taken a pragmatic decision rather than dragging their feet on it – thereby reinforcing the prospects of a smooth conduct of the Summer Games in these uncertain times when the threat of a second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic looks very much a reality around the globe. Mind you, this will also calm the anxiety levels of the Japanese public that an influx over visitors would spark a resurgence of infections.

Last year, both the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were a little cavalier in their handling of the postponement of Tokyo 2020 – hoping for the best when all other marquee events – including the Euro 2020 had made up their minds about the postponement. The main difference between a multi-event showpiece like Olympics and any other big sporting event is that keeping aside the scale of the competition, the qualification process for most of these events continue for over a couple of years and hence the athletes need to be in the right frame of mind to go about their job.

Before the Games were postponed last year, some 600,000 foreign visitors were expected to attend, in addition to more than 11,000 athletes. The Tokyo Olympic Committee in last December estimated overall ticket sales of about 90 billion yen ($827 million), which would have been about 12% of total expected revenue from the Games. A media report in Japan says that about 900,000 of the 10 million tickets that were initially expected to be sold went to overseas fans, which will now be refunded online.

It is going to lead to losses of millions of dollars due to cancelled ticket sales, while any possible projection of tourism expenditure once expected to help boost an industry flattened by the pandemic will also go for a toss.

A grey area still remains about how many local fans might be permitted to enter stadiums. There is talk that organisers were considering setting a ceiling of up to 50% capacity – a step which would limit the National Stadium, set to host the opening ceremony on July 23, to a crowd of 34,000.

The IOC, Japanese government and the Tokyo organizing committee have reiterated that they are fully focused on holding the event – with a nationwide Olympic torch relay from March 25, with virus counter measures in place including calling on runners to keep a daily record of their temperatures.

We can only keep our fingers crossed in the hope of the Games beginning on time…

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