The Tokyo Olympics will take place without overseas spectators after Japan decided it would not let them enter the country for fear of spreading Covid-19.
Overseas residents will receive a refund on Olympic tickets; the rules for domestic spectators and foreign residents of Japan have not yet been decided.
The decision will make for a subdued atmosphere at Tokyo 2020, where cheering has already been banned in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but it is a further signal of Japan’s determination the games should go ahead.
In a sign of tension between Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee, the decision was framed as a unilateral action by Tokyo to which the IOC acquiesced.
Speaking after an online meeting of the parties organising the games, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said: “I reported the conclusion that we have given up on receiving foreign spectators at the Tokyo Games.”
Warning it was highly unlikely that foreigners could have guaranteed entry into Japan this summer, Tokyo 2020 said it had made the decision so ticket holders overseas would have time to adjust their travel plans.
The IOC said it had been informed of the decision by the Japanese side. “I know that our Japanese partners and friends did not reach this conclusion lightly,” said Thomas Bach, IOC president.
The IOC said it “accepted and respected” the Japanese decision.
Tickets are one of the main perks for Olympic sponsors and the inability to bring foreign guests will further sour their investment in the games.
The decision may also lead to complaints in the summer if fully vaccinated friends and family are unable to travel to watch an athlete participate in the games.
Japan has struggled to get its vaccination campaign off the ground because of delayed regulatory approval and limited supplies from abroad.
So far it has administered just 578,835 vaccines, almost all of them initial shots, and Tokyo 2020 is planning to host the Olympics on the basis that nobody is vaccinated.
Japan will lift a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo on Sunday, although the number of cases in the city has stopped declining, remaining at around 300 a day for several weeks.
“Currently, the Covid-19 situation in Japan and many other countries around the world is still very challenging and a number of variant strains have emerged,” said Tokyo 2020. It said excluding foreign spectators would help to ensure a safe games for participants and the Japanese public.
Amid polls showing that half of the Japanese public want the games cancelled or postponed, the organising committee is hoping to build momentum for Tokyo 2020 when the torch relay starts in Fukushima prefecture this week.