The anticipated lack of audience is a growing cause of concern for media outfits and even athletes themselves.
Following a surge of coronavirus cases in Japan’s capital of Tokyo, the Japanese government has once again placed the area under a state of emergency, which means that the Tokyo Olympics will take place without any spectators on site.
This means that all eight major venues built specifically for the Summer Olympic Games, including the 68,000-seat National Stadium, will be virtually bare.
Apart from the host city of Tokyo, other public areas, such as triathlon routes, outside of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, will only be allowing minimal number of spectators. The viewing public will also be asked not to gather for such events.
Since the decision, both government officials and organizers of the Olympics have been under stress in coming up with a solution to holding the Games safely, partly due to a petition campaigning for the event’s cancellation.
Ultimately, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the judgment call to prevent Tokyo from becoming a hotspot of new infections, Reuters reports.
“It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said. “I am sorry for those who purchased tickets.”
In a video message to the Olympic athletes, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said on Friday that while it was a difficult and regrettable decision to make, it is one which was “necessary to ensure a safe Olympic Games.”
I hope we all agree that the most important thing is that the Olympic Games are happening,” Bach said.
“It will be under very different circumstances but you need not to feel alone in these stadia,” Bach added. “Billions of people in the entire world will be glued to their screens. I hope you can feel this support.”
As of writing, Japan has suffered more than 810,000 coronavirus cases and has dealt with over 14,900 deaths.
Impact to media, athletes
In an article by The Wall Street Journal, Hashimoto has expressed his concerns over the adverse impact of not having an audience to the athlete’s performance. On Friday, the former Olympic speedskater told members of the media that some athletes had already bowed out of the competition, while others had told her that they prefer seeing the support of the crowd over competing in an empty stadium.
One such athlete who will be missing this year’s Games is Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios. While he officially withdrew from the event due to sustaining an injury during the Wimbledon injury, he had also said that playing in front of bare bleachers “just doesn’t sit right with him.”
“I sincerely hope the athletes strive to compete at their highest level,” Hashimoto said. “As an athlete I always wanted people to be watching.”
Meanwhile, media outfits are also scrambling for contingencies following the declaration banning spectators from the sporting event.
NBC, which has covered the Games a record fifteen times and is slated to televise this year’s edition to its viewers in the United States, describes the lack of this key component as a “disappointment” but says they are ready to “enhance the viewing experience” nonetheless.
“We’ve had a lot of experience with events without spectators throughout the pandemic,” the spokesperson for NBC Sports said. “Although unfortunate, this won’t diminish the incredible stories and achievements of the athletes from Team USA and around the world.”
Bob Costas, who called the Games 11 times in his career before retiring in 2017, calls the crowd-less event “a hell of a challenge” to cover.
“Now does this mean people won’t watch? Of course they’ll watch,” Costas said per CNN. “But will they watch in the same kind of numbers than if this had the usual texture? Probably not.”
“It becomes all the more important to have people mic’d,” he explained further. “To have the coaches mic’d. To have boom mic’s close by. That’s really going to be a key. All that kind of peripheral stuff from the competitors and the support staff are going to become more important than ever.”
The Olympic Games in Tokyo is set to begin on Friday, July 23.