The Tokyo Olympic games could be held behind closed doors with no spectators, the head of the organising committee said on Friday.
It has already been announced that international spectators wouldn’t be permitted to attend the delayed 2020 games, due the coronavirus pandemic.
But now Seiko Hashimoto – who took over as head of the organising committee in February after her predecessor was forced to resign over a sexism scandal – has raised the possibility of no spectators at all attending.
She told the AFP news agency the games would be “safe”, and organisers would do everything to ensure they were not cancelled.
The games would only be a success if athletes and the Japanese public were protected “completely” she said, meaning there could be “a situation where we could not allow spectators”.
Faced with uncertainty over developments in the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisers have now postponed a decision on whether to allow local spectators until June.
In March they banned spectators from abroad, for the first time in history.
Tokyo and three other counties have been under a third state of emergency since Sunday, in response to the increase in cases.
This requires sporting events to be held without crowds.
With Japan’s hospital system already under intense pressure, Tokyo-2020 has been criticised for asking for Japanese medical staff to help with the event, and Hashimoto said the absence of spectators could ease the pressure.
“If the (Olympic) event itself were to change, it would be with regard to spectators,” she said, noting that “this is an area where we might be able to reduce public concerns about the hospital system”.
In an attempt to assuage the scepticism of the Japanese public, which is largely in favour of a further postponement or cancellation, Tokyo-2020 has issued “playbooks” listing strict anti-virus measures, a new version of which was introduced on Wednesday.
Quarantine for athletes will not be required, however, and vaccinations will not be mandatory.
Seiko Hashimoto noted that the rules would continue to be refined but said she was confident that the Games could be held “safely”.