Japanese Olympics official suffocates over ticket cancellations


TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese official choked on tears on Friday as he apologized for the cancellation of Olympic tickets, a moment that crystallized the country’s pain to see the Tokyo 2020 Games eclipsed by a worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 ticket sales manager Hidenori Suzuki’s emotional display came a day after organizers bowed to political pressure and rising infections in the capital, with the exception of almost all fans of the Games just two weeks before their start.

Two members of the visiting Olympic delegation tested positive for COVID-19, media said on Friday, recalling the risk of increased infections in the capital.

“We did everything possible to meet the expectations of those who purchased the tickets and I feel deep pain,” Suzuki said during a briefing on ticket cancellation procedures.

He choked back tears and paused in his speech when asked about the feelings of the host team staff over the decision to ban spectators.

Without spectators, Japan is now almost deprived of its hopes for the Games in pomp and public spectacle. The government and organizers have long viewed the event as a chance to show the country’s recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.

Overseas spectators were banned months ago.

A Lithuanian athlete tested positive in Hiratsuka, west of Tokyo, and a member of the Israeli delegation tested positive upon arrival at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, national media reported, without giving details.

They are not the first. A Ugandan athlete and a coach tested positive last month. A Serbian athlete tested positive this month.

“Please stay home for these Olympics and share this excitement with the families back home,” Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said at a press conference.

REDUCED RISK, LITTLE BUZZ

The Games, postponed from last year, are scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, and opinion polls show the Japanese public worried about following them during a pandemic.

In a recent media poll, 35% were in favor of the absence of spectators, 26% wanted limits and 34% wanted the Games canceled or postponed.

Tara Kirk Sell, Olympic swimming silver medalist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, praised the decision to cancel spectators.

“It’s obviously disappointing for everyone involved. But I think it reduces the risk a bit, ”she told Reuters.

100-meter hurdles world record holder Kendra Harrison said not having fans in attendance would make little difference to her bid for a first Olympic medal.

“In the middle of being lined up with the best in the world, you don’t really care who’s in the stands,” Harrison told Spectrum News 1 of Kentucky.

“You’re just worried about going out and competing to the best of their ability.”

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said organizers aim to decide on spectators from August 24 to September 24. 5 Paralympic Games as soon as possible after the close of the Olympic Games.

AUTOMATIC REFUNDS

Ticket holders for Olympic events that will take place without spectators will be automatically reimbursed and a new ticket lottery will be organized for events that will still be held with spectators, with the results being announced on July 10, organizers said.

Asked about plans by senior officials of the International Olympic Committee to travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastated by atomic bombs in the last days of World War II, Hashimoto said the visits were a chance to send a message of peace global.

IOC President Thomas Bach will visit Hiroshima on July 16 and IOC Vice President John Coates Nagasaki on the same day.

Remarks by IOC officials appearing to dismiss concerns about the pandemic angered many in Japan, and the hashtag #BachGoHome appeared on Twitter on Thursday, the day it arrived in Japan.

Japan has not suffered from the huge epidemics seen elsewhere but has recorded more than 800,000 cases and more than 14,890 deaths. Tokyo reported 822 new infections on Friday, the 20th consecutive day of week-over-week increase.

Just over 25% of the population has received an injection of the vaccine and supply problems are stumbling an initially delayed rollout of the vaccination.

Tokyo – which had a record tourism boom – experienced little buzz and excitement.

The Tokyo stage of the Olympic torch relay began on Friday with a small ceremony in an almost empty park. The relay will be kept off public roads and only small ceremonies, without public spectators, will take place over the next two weeks.

People will also be asked not to congregate for events on public roads, such as triathlon and cycling, although some venues outside the greater Tokyo metropolitan area allow small numbers of spectators.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Rocky Swift, Chris Gallagher, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Manasi Pathak; Additional writing by David Dolan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Nick Macfie and Giles Elgood)


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