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Seizing the Spectators: Why the Tokyo Olympics Won’t Have a Live Audience

Tokyo Olympics Pandemic

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are only two weeks away and, despite meticulous planning, it seems that the coronavirus will wreak havoc on the event yet again. Going back on a previous decision to allow domestic spectators at the Olympics, the event will no longer be hosting audience members.

While there had been ongoing discourse on the subject of COVID-19 interfering with the Olympics, officials had held on strong to the intention of having fans in the stands cheering on Olympians in real-time.  

Conditions in Tokyo

Now, Japan has declared a state of emergency due to the resurgence of COVID-19. This state of emergency will remain in place until August 22, almost two weeks after the Olympics are slated to end.

The country has previously been in headlines for reporting low infection and death rates. Even so, it seems that the combination of slow vaccination rollouts and the rise of the Delta variant are contributing to an unprecedented spike in infections across Japan.

On Wednesday, Tokyo alone announced 920 new coronavirus infections─ the highest report since May. In spite of opposition from medical teams in Japan, the show will go on.

Removing the spectators from the event aims to prevent a potential super spreader catastrophe, but it is unclear whether these provisions will be enough to protect athletes performing in the games.

Precautionary Measures

Approximately 80% of athletes competing in the Olympic Games will be fully vaccinated by the time of the event. Furthermore, competitors will be subject to regular COVID testing, social distancing, and contact tracing.

Even so, there are outside threats to the athletes’ health. The Olympics rely on volunteer assistance, which will be comprised of Tokyo locals. Because volunteers are not subject to the same testing and vaccination practices as the players, they risk getting vulnerable athletes ill.

Competitors have begun their travels to the Olympic destination, but at least four members of competing teams have tested positive for coronavirus. It is assumed that this number will continue to grow, but active infections will not be able to stop the Games.

Spikes in Other Sports

Other internationally televised games that were postponed such as Copa America and UEFA 2020 were hosted this Summer and have experienced similar COVID complications.

With coronavirus running rampant through South America, several teams had to replace entire rosters in Copa America to continue in the competition.

Regarding the Olympics, it sparks some curiosity as to whether COVID infections will create space for underdogs to show off their skills and even place at the event.

If nothing else, viewers may be lucky enough to witness the marvel of cardboard people lining the seats of Tokyo’s National Stadium─ a true testament to these terribly strange times.