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Fewer than 1,000 VIPs may attend Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony

Japan National Stadium, the main venue of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, is seen in this June 21, 2021 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo Olympic organizers are considering allowing fewer than 1,000 VIPs to attend next week's opening ceremony in person, slashing the initially planned figure of 10,000 and excluding the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials involved in the event's preparations said Thursday.

    Since making an unprecedented decision recently to stage the Olympics without spectators at almost all venues, the organizers have been trying to cut the number of people who will be physically present at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo, which is now under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

    The ceremony in the 68,000-seat stadium, slated for July 23, is likely to be limited to some officials including International Olympic Committee representatives and foreign dignitaries, but guests invited by corporate sponsors will be left to watch on television, according to the officials.

    Although the Japanese organizing committee sold tickets for 750 Olympic sessions, or time slots, with the decision to stage competitions behind closed doors in Tokyo and some other areas, only 26, or about 3.5 percent of the total, will take place with spectators at venues.

    IOC chief Thomas Bach, who arrived in Japan a week ago, and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike will meet on Thursday afternoon to discuss the Tokyo Games, which will be held following a one-year postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    While Olympic competitions will begin on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony, public support remains low and medical experts have expressed fears that the games could worsen the pandemic situation in the country, where the majority of people have still not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

    An online petition calling for the cancellation of the Olympics has received over 450,000 signatures since it was launched in early May.

    Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer who started the campaign, told a press conference on Thursday that it is unlikely that the organizers can hold the Olympics and Paralympics safely, after he submitted the request to cancel the global sporting event to the Tokyo metropolitan government.

    "(Hosting the games) will run counter to the Olympic Charter that aims to promote a 'peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,'" he said.

    The new state of emergency, under which restaurants and bars are asked to refrain from serving alcohol, took effect on Monday following another wave of COVID-19 infections triggered by the more contagious Delta variant. The emergency will run through the Olympics to Aug. 22.

    Arrangements are being made for Japan's Emperor Naruhito to attend the Olympic ceremony and declare the games open, while French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. first lady Jill Biden are expected to be among the international guests traveling to Tokyo for the event.

    But unlike in the past, Macron, whose country is to host the next Summer Games in 2024, is the only major world leader so far to have announced his attendance at the opening ceremony.

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