Overseas spectators barred from Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus fears

Games officials say situation in Japan and abroad remain 'very challenging'

epa09084709 (FILE) A woman wearing a protective face mask takes pictures of an Olympic Rings monument near the National Stadium, the main venue of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, in Tokyo, Japan, 07 September 2020 (reissued on 19 March 2021). The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee, Japan's officials and International Olympic and Paralympic committees are scheduled to meet on 20 March 2021 to decide on welcoming or not overseas spectators at the Tokyo 2020 Games amid the coronavirus pandemic.  EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON

Overseas fans will be banned from this summer's Tokyo Olympics in a bid to reduce virus risks, organisers said on Saturday.

The unprecedented decision will make the Tokyo Games the first ever held without overseas spectators, as organisers scale back their ambitions for the pandemic event.

When the decision to postpone the Games was taken last year, officials said the delay would allow them to hold the event as "proof of humanity's triumph over the virus."

But instead, the Games are shaping up to be a largely television event for most of the world, with little of the international party atmosphere that is the norm at at the Olympics.

In a statement issued after talks between local organisers, Japanese officials and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs, Games officials said the virus situation in Japan and abroad remained "very challenging".

"Based on the present situation of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that entry into Japan will be guaranteed this summer for people from overseas," they added.

As a result, "the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they [overseas fans] will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games."

The International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee "fully respect and accept this conclusion," the statement added, saying refund details would be released soon.

IOC chief Thomas Bach set the stage for the decision at the start of talks between the parties earlier Saturday evening, warning "difficult decisions" would be necessary to ensure safety.

The move had been widely anticipated in recent weeks, with leaks suggesting organisers believe a ban on overseas fans is the only option as they work to make the Games safe despite the pandemic.

The IOC has reportedly sought limited exemptions for some overseas guests, but the rules are likely to be strict.

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto has admitted it will be "difficult" for even the families of foreign athletes to attend.

Just how many domestic spectators will be in venues this summer has yet to be decided. Organisers originally suggested they would rule on that by April, but Bach has said the decision could be pushed closer to the July 23 opening ceremony.