Overseas fans banned from Tokyo Olympics over COVID fears

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed last year to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

DAVID STOKES: With 125 days to go until the Olympics in Tokyo, the organizers have made a major call. For the first time in the game's history, there will be no overseas fans in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

THOMAS BACH: We have to take decisions which may need to sacrifice respecting this priority of the safety of the Olympic games.

DAVID STOKES: This has largely been driven by the Japanese public. Recent polls have shown a growing skepticism about holding the games and, in particular, letting foreigners in during a global health crisis.

SEIKO HASHIMOTO: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]

INTERPRETER: We thought we should make a decision early because of accommodation and flight reservations. There were also requests domestically for making a decision as soon as possible.

DAVID STOKES: Set to cost $25 billion, the Tokyo games are already the most expensive ever. And the absence of foreign fans will make a further dent in the budget. Tokyo's hotels, restaurants, and other businesses will miss out on valuable trade, and around a million tickets already sold abroad now need refunding. British fan Justin Reed had tickets and flights booked, but he's looking on the bright side.

JUSTIN REID: If you're sat on your sofa watching it, you can record it in your own time, you can watch what you want to watch, you can flick between the two, you can go to as many events as you want. So I will-- the Olympics may have lost me in person but I definitely will still be watching.

DAVID STOKES: Around 4.5 million tickets have been bought domestically. But while Japanese fans are expected to be allowed in, the venues will almost certainly operate at a reduced capacity.

LUTALO MUHAMMAD: The Japanese fans are notorious for being very quiet and very polite. It's like small influxes of excitement, then it goes very quiet again. So I'm very fortunate to have competed in Japan before, so I'll be used to it. But I think it's going to be a bit of a culture shock.

DAVID STOKES: Athletes like Lutalo Muhammad continue to train all around the world. And organizers still have the massive challenge of bringing in more than 15,000 of them for the Olympics and then the Paralympics. The next big test will be the Olympic torch relay, which is coming up on Thursday, starting in Fukushima. 10,000 runners will crisscross Japan over the next four months to reach the opening ceremony on July 23. Local crowds, just like their foreign counterparts, are being asked to stay away. David Stokes, Al Jazeera.