IOC sources rule out spectator-free Tokyo 2020

Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. Image Credit: Tokyo 2020 website

The International Olympic Committee will not look to implement a closed doors policy at this summer’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics as a response to the coronavirus outbreak because this would run against the collective spirit of the event.

The IOC and the Tokyo Organising Committee have come under pressure to make a decision about the Games after most major events around the world have been either postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. But both parties are understood to want to give every chance for the event to go ahead and for athletes to have the opportunity to compete when the Games are scheduled to begin in four months’ time.

While most rights-holders have postponed events entirely, a handful, such as snooker and horse racing, have played to empty venues in order to continue to provide a product to their broadcast partners.

However, an IOC source told The Guardian a closed doors approach has already been rejected in internal IOC meetings. “It would go against everything we stand for. The Olympics is more than just a series of competitions, it is about bringing everyone together to celebrate sport,” the source said.

Another source told the newspaper: “An event with closed doors and no spectators is not an option.”

The IOC will also countenance relaxing its qualification criteria for the Games given so many Olympic qualifiers events in different sports have fallen victim to the coronavirus outbreak. The issue will be discussed at an executive board meeting on Tuesday with reports suggesting the IOC could increase the numbers of athletes allowed to compete at the event to provide every opportunity to athletes on the cusp of Olympic qualification.

Japan’s Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto revealed in early March that its hosting agreement with the IOC “calls for the Games to be held within 2020”, which she noted “could be interpreted as allowing a postponement”.

However, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that the country remained committed to staging the Olympics at the originally scheduled dates to represent a victory over the virus.

The ability to cancel the Games outright belongs solely to the IOC, and would be seen as a last resort. Even a postponement to a later date would be extremely costly for all stakeholders, given the scale of operations involved. The latest budget estimations for the Olympics stood at ¥1.35tn (€11.3bn/$12.5bn).

Yesterday (Sunday), snooker, boxing and darts promoter Barry Hearn suggested live televised sport should continue behind closed doors during the coronavirus outbreak “to keep everyone busy and happy”.