TOKYO (Reuters) – Alcohol, high-fives and talking loudly will be banned for the reduced numbers of Olympic ticket holders allowed into venues as organisers concede a “sense of celebration” will be limited at a Games already postponed by a year due the coronavirus.
Organisers have pushed ahead with preparations for the Olympics, still called Tokyo 2020, despite strong concerns among the Japanese public that hosting competitors from around the world could result in further COVID-19 outbreaks.
Compounding those worries, a second member of Team Uganda, an athlete, has tested positive after being given a clean bill of health just days ago upon arrival in Japan.
Media reports that organisers were considering allowing alcohol consumption in Olympic venues when sales have been restricted in and around Toyko over concerns it would increase contact and mingling in bars provoked an outcry this week.
The hashtag “cancel the Olympic Games” garnered tens of thousands of tweets, adding to wave of protests online and on the streets over the past months.
A crowd of people gathered in front of the metropolitan government headquarters on Wednesday evening to protest against the Games, with participants chanting “cancel Olympics”, “stop the torch”, “save lives”, and “protect livelihoods”.
A month before the opening ceremony on July 23, Tokyo Olympics President Seiko Hashimoto reiterated that organisers wanted a safe and secure Games.
“If our citizens have concerns (over serving alcohol at the Olympics), I think we have to give up on that. That’s why we have decided to ban the sale of alcohol,” she told reporters.
Sponsor Asahi Breweries said it agreed with the decision, calling the move natural.
Ticket holders, to be selected in a new lottery after domestic spectators were capped at up to 10,000 per venue, will also be asked to go straight to venues and straight home, to refrain from talking en route and should not ask athletes for autographs.
“The major challenge at the Tokyo Games is to curb a flow of people and limit a sense of celebration,” Hashimoto said. “We are striving to make the Tokyo Games safe and secure, so it won’t be full of celebration.”
When Toyko won the Games back in 2013, it was greeted with a roar of approval and an outpouring of emotion from a country hailing the decision as the final step of the country’s recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that set off multiple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Eight years on, that joy has been dimmed by the pandemic.
Japanese medical experts have said banning spectators is the least risky option but also given recommendations on how best to host the Games if spectators are admitted. Spectators from overseas have already been barred.
Hashimoto has defended the decision to allow spectators.
“I understand that holding the event without spectators would lower the risk, but there is evidence that there have been no clusters at other events and tournaments,” Hashimoto told reporters on Tuesday.
Organisers said on Wednesday they would decide on whether to allow spectators at night sessions, taking infections into account, by July 12 when virus curbs are due to be lifted in Tokyo and some other areas.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has still not ruled out holding the Games without spectators if Tokyo is put back under a state of emergency, from which it only emerged on June 21.
The positive test for the Ugandan athlete followed a positive test for a coach upon arrival in Japan on Saturday, and after the rest of the delegation were quarantined.
Their cases underscore the challenges ahead for organisers to make the Games safe, with daily testing of athletes, who will be confined to a “bubble” and kept away from the public.
The second positive test was announced by the team’s host city Izumisano in western Japan, confirming the rest of Team Uganda and a local city official who accompanied them from the country were close contacts.
Many Japanese remain sceptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down Games safely during a pandemic, with 619 infections reported for Wednesday in Tokyo, up 118 cases versus a week ago.
“I believe that it will not be possible to prevent contagion within the Athletes’ Village,” Masahiro Kami, the head of think-tank Medical Governance Research Institute, told reporters.
The arduous preparations for the Olympics also appeared to have taken its toll on organisers.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike was hospitalised on Tuesday after the metropolitan government said she would take the rest of the week off due to fatigue.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Chang-Ran Kim, Antoni Slodkowski, Ju-min Park, Rocky Swift and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Gareth Jones, Lincoln Feast and Alison Williams)