Hokkaido and Fukushima have become the latest Japanese prefectures to ban fan attendance at the forthcoming Olympic Games.
The latest decisions come after it was announced on Thursday that fans will not be able to attend the majority of venues at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo after a state of emergency was declared in the Japanese capital.
With COVID-19 cases rising in Tokyo, a five-party meeting between the Games’ organising committee (Tokyo 2020), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Government of Japan, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee was called on Thursday.
Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa confirmed that the escalating COVID-19 situation in Tokyo means that no spectators will be permitted in the capital and the wider metropolitan area during the Olympics, which are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8 before the Paralympics follow from August 24 to September 5.
It had been hoped that a limited number of spectators would be able to attend events and last month it was announced that venues could operate at 50% capacity with up to 10,000 fans permitted. The decision was, however, subject to Tokyo being placed into a state of emergency, which has been imposed from today (Monday) to August 22.
Venues in the neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama will also be without fans during the Olympics, but it had been expected that spectators would be in attendance in Hokkaido and Fukushima.
However, the Hokkaido prefectural government informed Tokyo 2020 late on Friday that it has since decided to hold all football events at Sapporo Dome without spectators, because of the difficulty of preventing travel from Tokyo.
Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said he prioritised the safety of local citizens after failing to secure guarantees from organisers that no fans would travel from the Tokyo metropolitan area.
“There has been a great change to the premise of holding events with fans for those scheduled away from the metropolitan area,” Uchibori said, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo. “We’ve reached the decision to ensure the safe and secure hosting of the Games.”
Events at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium were also set to be open to spectators. However, Tokyo 2020 said on Saturday that the Fukushima prefectural government had decided to hold all events in Fukushima without spectators, taking into account the recent increase in the rate of new COVID-19 infections elsewhere in the country and the responses of the other local authorities concerned.
The absence of spectators in Fukushima will be a particular blow to Tokyo 2020, with its presence at the Olympics intended to be a symbolic one.
In March 2017, Tokyo 2020 announced that the International Olympic Committee Executive Board has approved Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium (pictured) as an additional venue for baseball and softball events during the Japanese capital’s staging of the multi-sport showpiece.
It was hoped that staging events in the Fukushima Prefecture, one of the areas worst-hit by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster that devastated Japan, would help aid the recovery effort in the region.
Speaking on Saturday, Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori admitted he had been influenced by Hokkaido’s decision. He added: “The form (of the Games) has changed due to the battle with the coronavirus. The framework is still there, but the whole image has become different from what we’ve been picturing.”
Following the Fukushima and Hokkaido announcements, Tokyo 2020 confirmed that no changes are currently planned in the number of spectators admitted to events in Miyagi, Ibaraki (via the student ticket programme), and Shizuoka prefectures.
It added: “Tokyo 2020 is committed to ensuring that the Games are safe and secure, and will continue to work closely with relevant local authorities to prepare for events at venues where spectators will be admitted.”
The decisions mean that of the 750 Olympic sessions originally ticketed, only 26, or 3.5%, are now expected to have fans in the venues.
Image: Tokyo 2020