Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow

Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow: World Athletics said on Tuesday that it was surprised by the “seemingly inconsistent” decision to ask spectators to stay away from the marathon and race walk at the Tokyo Olympics, outdoor events that are hugely popular in Japan.

Organisers had earlier asked the public not to gather on the streets for the events to reduce the risk of infection amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after a technical working group meeting with Hokkaido prefectural and Sapporo city authorities and police.

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The decision is a blow to fans in a country where the marathon has gained in popularity in recent years, after Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi won gold in the women’s event in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

“World Athletics is surprised by this new decision about our events in Sapporo, which is seemingly inconsistent with the decision to allow up to 10,000 spectators in venues in Tokyo, many of which are indoor venues,” the athletics governing body said in a statement.

Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow

“We’ll discuss this decision as soon as possible as it would be a great shame not to have spectators for the race walk and marathon in Sapporo given the popularity of both disciplines in Japan and the fact they are being held outdoors.”

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The race walks will be held on Aug. 5-6 and the marathon races on Aug. 7.

Japan is also considering barring all but VIP spectators from the Games’ opening ceremony, a newspaper said, another downgrade for the Olympics that have had their pomp and spectacle tarnished by the novel coronavirus.

Once promoted as an extravaganza to showcase Japan to the world, the Games appear in danger of taking place largely without spectators in a country closed to visitors from abroad because of the pandemic and with areas around Tokyo still under restrictions.

Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow

The Games, already delayed a year, are set to open on July 23 despite concern that an influx of thousands of people from around the world could trigger new waves of infections.

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Plans for the opening ceremony remain under wraps but the Asahi newspaper, ahead of talks with the International Olympic Committee and other organisers, reported that the government would slash the number of VIPs, such as sponsors’ guests and diplomats, at the ceremony from an initial estimate of about 10,000.

During the Games, events at large venues and those after 9 p.m. would also be held without spectators, the paper said, citing multiple unidentified government sources.

Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow

Organisers have already banned overseas spectators and set a cap on domestic spectators at 50% of capacity, up to 10,000 people.

With the public nervous about new clusters of infections, medical experts have said no spectators would be the least risky option.

The question of spectators is due to be decided at five-way talks also expected on Thursday that will include the Tokyo governor and IOC President Thomas Bach, who arrives in Japan that day.

Tokyo Olympics: Big setback; no spectators at marathons and race walks as more curbs likely to follow

The government looks likely to decide on Thursday to extend a state of quasi-emergency in Tokyo and three nearby prefectures beyond an original end-date of July 11, government sources have said.

Kyodo News reported that the extension would likely last a month, meaning the curbs will be in place throughout the Olympics, which close with a ceremony on Aug. 8.

The government looks likely to decide on Thursday to extend a state of quasi-emergency in Tokyo and three nearby prefectures beyond an original end-date of July 11, government sources have said.

Kyodo News reported that the extension would likely last a month, meaning the curbs will be in place throughout the Olympics, which close with a ceremony on Aug. 8.

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