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Spectators From Overseas Are Barred From Tokyo Olympics

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TOKYO — Spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Japan, organizers said on Saturday, making a major concession to the realities of Covid-19 even as they forged ahead with plans to hold the world’s largest sporting event.

The Tokyo Games, which begin in July, were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The Tokyo organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents from the virus. Concern has been running high in Japan, with big majorities saying in polls that the Games should not be held this summer.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo committee, promised at a news conference on Saturday that the lack of international spectators would not spoil the Games.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence remains the same,” Ms. Hashimoto said. “Athletes will put everything on the line and inspire people with their outstanding performances.”

The decision to bar spectators from abroad, which the Tokyo organizers made jointly with the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee and the national and local governments in Japan, had been foreshadowed in the Japanese media for weeks.

Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., has encouraged national organizing committees to secure vaccines for athletes, and he announced this month that China had offered to provide vaccinations for participants who required one ahead of the Games.

But not all local spectators will have the chance to be inoculated before the Olympics open on July 23. In Japan, where the vaccine rollout has been relatively slow, the population will not be close to fully vaccinated by the time the Games start.

Officials said on Saturday that they would meet again in April to discuss how many spectators would be allowed into Olympic venues.

The organizing committees will now have the enormous headache of arranging refunds for ticket buyers. Overseas buyers purchased 600,000 tickets to Olympic events, as well as 30,000 tickets to the Paralympic Games starting in August, organizers said. The Paralympics will also bar spectators from abroad.

In bidding for the Games, the Tokyo organizers said that 7.8 million tickets would be made available. Typically, about 10 to 20 percent of Olympic tickets go to international spectators.

Japanese fans could take up some of the slack. Local demand for tickets far outstripped the supply, at least before the pandemic.

The coronavirus has had a comparatively muted effect on Japan, which has had far fewer cases and deaths than the United States and Western Europe. The country has reported just over 8,700 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

Japan declared a widespread state of emergency in early January after a rise in infections. Since then, most areas have lifted the declaration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that it would be ended in Tokyo.

As part of its efforts to stop the spread of new, more infectious variants of Covid-19, Japan has also barred all new entries into the country from abroad since late December.

Those measures, however, have been lifted for Olympic athletes and some of their entourages. That decision has been contentious: Foreign students and workers are still unable to enter the country, and the foreign ministry has not given any clear indications as to when that might change.

Barring foreign spectators is unlikely to allay the public’s concerns about the Games, given that thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists will still come for the event. Nearly 80 percent of the public wants the Olympics postponed or canceled altogether, according to some polls.

Regardless of the opposition, officials plan to officially kick off the countdown to the Games on Thursday with the torch relay, starting in Fukushima. As with the events this summer, the number of spectators will be limited.

International ticket holders will now have to go through the process of seeking refunds. Everen Brown, 60, a photographer in Salt Lake City and a superfan who has attended 15 Olympics, bought about $8,600 in tickets for the Tokyo Games for himself and his nephew.

They were looking forward to seeing beach volleyball, archery, fencing, diving and a men’s basketball game and had tickets for the closing ceremony. According to terms from CoSport, the broker that handled ticket sales for U.S.-based fans, customers will not be repaid for some fees — which Mr. Brown said could cost him about $1,200 — and refunds could take time.

“Since we are being barred, it is only right for them to make everyone whole and refund all of the money paid,” Mr. Brown said before the announcement was made. What’s more, he said, after waiting a whole year, he wanted his refund quickly. “It would be real painful watching this at home on TV and knowing they have the money, and not knowing when you’re going to get it back.”

Hikari Hidacontributed reporting.

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