A decision on whether Japanese spectators will be allowed at the Olympic Summer Games is expected by the end of the month, the International Olympic Committee’s games executive director said Wednesday. But whether or not domestic fans will be allowed (foreign spectators have already been banned), the IOC intends to create an environment for worldwide viewers to experience what’s happening in venues across Tokyo.
“Irrespective of whether we have spectators, the outside world will come into the stadium, albeit it digitally,” said Christophe Dubi. “Do I prefer to have a full stadium with all of the shouting? Yes. But do we have a good response in case that’s not the fact? Absolutely.”
While that key decision is looming, IOC officials said Wednesday they are proceeding with plans for Tokyo, including the possibility that the committee will need to import their own medical professionals to supplement those available in Japan if Japanese authorities say they need assistance. The nation’s medical community has been critical of releasing any professionals that are already taking care of Japanese residents, where COVID-19 rates in recent months have been on the rise.
“We stand ready to assist if organizers need assistance in this respect,” Dubi said. “A number of National Olympic Committees and institutions have offered assistance.”
In other signs of preparation for the Games, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 continue to plan for the Games with roads being closed off on Tuesday around the city’s Olympic venues.
“Today we are only 45 days away from the opening ceremony, although the state of emergency is in effect and the situation remains severe nationwide,” Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto told an executive board meeting Tuesday. “The number of new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has started to decrease little by little and we strongly hope the situation will be under control as soon as possible.”
New infections in Tokyo are down to around 500 cases a day from 1,000 a month ago, according to The Associated Press. And on Tuesday, the CDC took Japan off its highest travel advisory list, moving the county to Level 3 on its risk chart. Level 3 is a warning that there are still high amounts of COVID cases in the country. But at the country’s previous Level 4, the CDC was advising against any and all travel to Japan.
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, also said Tuesday that foreign media entering Japan could be monitored by GPS to make sure they follow the rules that will be spelled out in the third edition of Tokyo 2020’s Playbooks due later this month. He did not clarify if the tracking would apply to IOC officials, officials of national Olympic committees and sports federations, and broadcasters among others.
That would be quite the discrepancy in tracking given that organizers said while 11,090 Olympians will be in Tokyo, 59,000 other people will enter the country, including 3,000 from the ‘Olympic Family’ as well as national Olympic committees (14,800); international sports federations (4,500); Olympic Broadcasting Service and other broadcasters (16,700); media (5,500); others (14,500).
The Paralympics involve 4,400 athletes, plus 19,000 more in categories similar to the Olympic breakdown for a total of 23,400. That would make the combined total for both events 93,490, although Muto said 105,000 people might be the total number for the Olympics and Paralympics — a discrepancy that organizers could not clarify.
Regardless, Dubi emphasized that any stakeholder traveling to Japan will need to closely abide by the playbooks the IOC has drafted. While the final versions are forthcoming, further revisions may still be made up to the start of the Games, he said. “The one thing we owe to our Japanese hosts is an absolute respect of the playbooks,” Dubi said.
The IOC needs the Games to go on regardless of the conditions in Tokyo because of the amount of revenue it gets from each event, the vast majority of which comes from NBC. The degree to which NBC plans to leverage its billion-dollar agreement with the IOC was emphasized on Monday, when NBCUniversal revealed its plans for the Games with 7,000 hours of coverage scheduled across eight networks and multiple digital platforms. NBC itself is scheduled to air 250 hours across 17 days, an average of nearly 15 hours per day, starting with live coverage of the opening ceremony at 6:55 a.m. EDT on July 23.
Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone, meaning many of the marquee events will take place during prime time in the U.S. and allowing NBC to leverage that for commercial purposes as well as TV ratings, which traditionally have been a big win for NBC compared to other networks’ prime-time broadcasts in the summer.