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Japan mulling entirely zero-fan Olympics after public backlash

People wearing face masks ride an escalator with banners to promote the Tokyo Olympics, on July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

TOKYO -- Plans to have no spectators at any of the Olympic venues across Japan have surfaced within the central government, a serious shift from the previous policy of keeping fans out of some events, such as those at night or at large stadiums.

    Increasing numbers of figures in the government and ruling coalition believe the move is necessary, due to serious public concern about holding the games mid-pandemic. The Japanese government will hold a five-party meeting including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games as early as July 8 to make a final decision on spectators.

    "It's tough to have spectators at this point," a Cabinet member who had insisted on having live fans told the Mainichi Shimbun. Even if the games were to be held without any spectators, attendance by those involved including parties related to the International Olympic Committee is being considered.

    Following the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s de-facto defeat in the July 4 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, a senior party executive said the public is dissatisfied with how the government was handling the coronavirus crisis. They pointed out, "Scientifically speaking, we could have made just some venues spectator-free, but that won't pass muster politically."

    At the June 21 five-party meeting, they agreed to set the maximum number of Olympic spectators at 10,000 people per venue, and to mull over barring fans entirely if COVID-19 state or emergency or quasi-emergency measures were issued at the time of the games, which start on July 23.

    At the moment, 10 prefectures including Tokyo are under the quasi-emergency measures, while Okinawa Prefecture is still under a full state of emergency. Some within the government have said it would be easy for the public to understand having no fans at any venues across the country.

    To boost public morale over the Tokyo Olympics, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appears to be in favor of holding the games while allowing some spectators. However, the plan for a no-spectator games is steadily clearing the decks.

    Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, told a July 6 news conference, "From an infection prevention perspective, I would like them (the five parties) to come to a conclusion with a view to a no-spectator games. The most important thing is to not cause the spread of infections by holding the games with fans (at the venues)."

    Regardless of the decision over spectators, meanwhile, preparations are being made for Emperor Naruhito, Prime Minister Suga and speakers of both houses of the Diet, among others, to attend the Tokyo Games' opening ceremony.

    (Japanese original by Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)

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