There are two weeks to go before the July 23, 2021 Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Delayed by one year and continuing to be plagued by problems related to the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward wanted an idea of how these extraordinary Games will go forward.
Tamayo Marukawa, Minister for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, responded to our questions in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun on June 24.
Regarding requests by Saitama and Chiba Prefectures that nighttime competitions in their jurisdictions be conducted without spectators, Marukawa said that she “recognizes the authority of the governors.”
“I will accept the governor’s decision in the end, but will adjust if there is anything that can be done,” Marukawa added. Specifically, she indicated the organizers are considering such possibilities as allowing no spectators from the beginning of the game, or allowing them up to halfway through.
Both Saitama and Chiba Prefectures have requested the organizers to conduct Games in their jurisdictions without spectators after 9 P.M. The Organizing Committee has said it will make a decision by July 11, which is the deadline for enacting measures preventing the spread of the coronavirus, based on the New Coronavirus Special Measures Law.
Should the final decision be made to allow spectators, Marukawa said the organizers are coordinating special measures to control the risk of infection with the department in charge of coronavirus measures. They will pinpoint the state of infections while considering the exact measures that will be put in place.
In related news, on the evening of July 8, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that a fourth COVID-19 related state of emergency will be declared for the region, extending into late August after the traditional Japanese summer holiday period.
The Olympics minister also commented on the significance of holding the Olympics during the pandemic, saying: “Our lives have also been greatly affected. If the Games can be a time where people can see how much effort the athletes have put in and collectively have the courage to move our lives forward again, that will be wonderful.”
Excerpts of the interview follow.
If the COVID-19 prevention measures issued in areas where the competition venues are located continue, is there a possibility that the Games will be conducted without spectators?
It’s difficult for me to currently predict what exactly will be possible at this stage. However, we can only achieve what is realistic. I expect that as we get very close to the Games, we will be able to see what form it will take.
How are you treating the requests of governors seeking competitions after 9 P.M. to be held without an audience?
As the situation of infections varies from region to region, we recognize that each governor has a great deal of authority to make decisions. In the case that a governor needs to make a decision in order to be more cautious. Ultimately as a country we must accept that.
If the governor decides that it is necessary to control the flow of people, we must also consider holding competitions without spectators. Basically, we are planning to allow spectators, but are also adjusting for other considerations.
What about the people gathering for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies?
We are asking for a commitment to keep the number of spectators under 10,000. In addition, we are asking the Organizing Committee to investigate the other ways that people may gather. The Organizing Committee is important in this decision. We will also continue asking people to reduce the number of people to the best of their ability.
What is the significance of holding the Olympics during the pandemic?
With a limit of 10,000 spectators and uncertainty over the state of infections, it will be the case that most people will watch the athletes through video. The Games were delayed by one year, and our lives have changed drastically as well. There are people who have experienced great suffering.
In the midst of this, it will be wonderful to see people come together by seeing how much effort athletes have made and through the competitions, and bravely say, “let’s change society from here. Let’s restart our lives.”
(Read the interview in The Sankei Shimbun in Japanese at this link.)
Authors: Toyohiro Ichioka, Toshimasa Morimoto, and Shigeyuki Mizuchi, staff writers, The Sankei Shimbun