The Tokyo Olympics will have a different feel with spectators banned from the venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Friday promised athletes a global digital audience of billions.
On Thursday, Tokyo Games organisers decided the July 23- Aug. 8 Olympics would take place without spectators as a resurgent coronavirus forced Japan to declare a state of emergency in the capital that will run throughout the Games.
“This was a really difficult one and we all regret the consequences for you the athletes but also for the spectators,” Bach said from Tokyo in a video message to athletes.
“But it was a decision which was necessary to ensure a safe Olympic Games. I hope we all agree that the most important thing is that the Olympic Games are happening.”
Without spectators, Japan is now all but deprived of its hopes for a Games with pomp and public spectacle. The government and organisers had long seen the event as a chance to display the country’s recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.
Spectators from overseas were banned months ago.
The ban on spectators will also cost organisers hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
The IOC is hoping increased visual production from the Games, especially in Japan and its biggest market, the United States, will help limit the damage done by Thursday’s decision.
“It will be under very different circumstances but you need not to feel alone in these stadia,” Bach said. “Billions of people in the entire world will be glued to their screens. I hope you can feel this support.”
The IOC has said the Games would be broadcast globally to a potential audience of more than 5 billion people, with more coverage by broadcast partners than any previous Olympic Games across both linear TV and digital.
“We can look forward to a great Olympic Games under very special circumstances,” Bach said. “Tokyo is ready, venues are marvellous. The athletes can finally come and concentrate on what the Games are for, and these are the Olympic competitions.”
The Games were postponed from last year and opinion polls show the Japanese public is worried about going ahead with them during a pandemic.
In a recent media survey, 35% favoured no spectators, 26% wanted some limits and 34% wanted the Games cancelled or postponed.
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