The organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have been forced to abandon plans to allow the sale of alcohol at venues after public outcry.
The president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, Seiko Hashimoto, said on Wednesday that the decision had been made to ensure the Games were “safe and secure” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, media reports said organisers were poised to allow Japanese sports fans to drink alcohol inside venues following pressure from Asahi Breweries, an Olympic sponsor. Hashimoto said Asahi had accepted the ban.
Earlier, she had said the sale of alcoholic drinks was “being considered”, but acknowledged there were concerns that alcohol consumption could make spectators more likely to shout and ignore social distancing rules.
Critics pointed out that residents of Tokyo, where a full state of emergency was lifted at the weekend, still face restrictions on alcohol consumption.
Under new measures that went into effect on Monday, Tokyoites can now drink alone or with one other person for up to 90 minutes between 11am and 7pm at bars and restaurants.
The sense that the Games were being give preferential treatment while people and businesses were still struggling amid Covid restrictions appears to have influenced the organisers’ about-turn on alcohol sales.
“Are the Olympics an exception, after having placed a burden of anti-infection measures on restaurant operators for so long?” Haruo Ozaki, the head of the Tokyo Medical Association, said on Tuesday, according to the Kyodo news agency.
The organising committee said on Wednesday that spectators would also be prevented from taking their own alcohol to venues.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 organisers have drawn widespread criticism after deciding that a limited number of Japanese spectators will be permitted to watch events this summer. Attendances will be capped at 50% of a venue’s capacity, or a maximum of 10,000 spectators.
The decision came despite warnings from the government’s most senior health adviser, Shigeru Omi, that the best way to prevent a new outbreak of the virus would be to ban spectators altogether.
Organisers decided earlier this year not to allow overseas sports fans to attend the Games.
The Mainichi Shimbun called the decision on domestic spectators “totally irresponsible”, and said that sports contests would also be watched by a large number of people connected to the IOC and Games sponsors.
The newspaper said in an editorial: “This decision openly rejects the views of experts on how to prevent coronavirus infections from spreading, and risks making a mockery of the notion of safety.”
Hashimoto defended the move on fans, saying their presence would enhance the Games. “Of course, 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,” she said.
While ticket holders will not have to offer proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test, those with a temperature of 37.5C or higher, or who believe they are displaying symptoms, will be denied entry, according to new measures announced on Wednesday.