Why keep the Tokyo Olympics without foreign spectators?

The conditions for holding the first Olympic and Paralympic Games during a pandemic are becoming clearer. If the final decision is expected by the end of March, several Japanese media are betting very strongly on a ban on spectators from abroad. The government, the city and the organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics (OCOG), initially planned for the summer of 2020 and then postponed from July 23, 2021, would be in favor.

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“As the spread of the coronavirus continues in all countries, they have decided that allowing the arrival of foreign visitors on a large scale will only make people anxious”, says the newspaper Yomiui in a passage reported by Agence France-Presse. According to a poll published on March 3 by this Japanese press organ, 58% of those questioned were against maintaining the great celebration of sport. This disapproval of the majority of the population, partly explained by the fear of Covid-19, would only encourage the authorities to be cautious about the arrival of hundreds of thousands of foreigners for several weeks.

“Decline in animosity”

“Anxiety remains among the citizens […] and as long as there is anxiety, we will have to work to guarantee their safety ”, repeated Wednesday the president of Cojo, Seiko Hashimoto. “The Japanese opposition [aux JO] remains in the majority, but it seems that there is a downturn “, relativizes Carole Gomez, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). In January, in fact, 80% of those polled were in favor of a cancellation or a new postponement. A “Decline in animosity” that the researcher, specialist in the geopolitics of sport, explains by the“Evolution of the health context” and the “Proximity to the event: things are starting to be conceivable, the inhabitants can see themselves more easily”.

At the end of January 2021, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, assured “No plan b”. The ban on foreign spectators would further confirm the holding of the Olympic Games with new organizational methods. Even if it means sacrificing part of the famous “Values” of Olympism?

“The fact of not being able to be there does not call into question the universality, sweeps Éric Monnin, sports sociologist and director of the Center for University Olympic Studies and Research (University of Franche-Comté). There will still be 206 nations, plus Russian athletes and refugees under the Olympic banner. The particular context just forces us to adapt. “ The academic would almost see the Tokyo Games as a cure for “Gloom”, even through television: “We will be able to plan on an event that will get out of this very anxiety-provoking atmosphere. With these competitions and athletes from all over the world, a horizon will begin to brighten. “

Economic and geopolitical interests

The maintenance of the Olympic Games must also be studied in the light of the interests of their organizers and hosts. Last December, the OCOG estimated at 2.1 billion euros the cost of postponing competitions for one year, between operational costs and measures against the coronavirus, in addition to the 11 billion budgeted before the epidemic.

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The reimbursement of the 900,000 tickets purchased outside the country, and the shortfall on the ticketing side, will increase the slate a little more. But the infrastructure is delivered and to give up would be to sit on the income from sponsors and television rights. “Whatever happens, it would cost more to cancel the Games than to organize them”, summarizes Éric Monnin.

For Japan, it is also a question of image and prestige in its ability to deliver an event of this magnitude in the midst of a pandemic. “No matter how we look at sport, the Olympics place a city and a country in a temporality on an international scale, Carole Gomez analysis. On the one hand, Tokyo cannot afford to be the exception and become the only Olympic Games canceled in peacetime. On the other hand, the country can take advantage of this to demonstrate dynamism, know-how and organizational capacity in the midst of a global epidemic. “


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