World Athletics president Sebastian Coe on Thursday urged organisers of the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics not to rush their decision on whether to allow fans to attend events.
Fans have been told to stay away from next week’s “simplified” starting ceremony and first leg of the nationwide relay, which was put on hold a year ago when the Olympics were delayed over the COVID-19 outbreak.
The ceremony comes ahead of a decision on whether fans from overseas will be allowed to enter Japan for the postponed Games, expected to be taken before the torch relay begins on March 25.
Reports last week suggested the Japanese government is set to ban fans from abroad over fears of a rise in infections.
Despite a spike in infections this winter, Japan has seen a comparatively small outbreak overall with around 8,700 deaths, and has avoided imposing the blanket lockdowns seen in other countries.
“Of course I’d like the stadiums to have people in,” Coe said after a virtual World Athletics council meeting.
“That’s a judgement that has to be a balanced one.
“The most important thing is that we get athletes to the Games, they’re the number one client group.”
Coe, who won two Olympic 1500m golds for Britain, was chairman of the organising committee for the 2012 London Olympics, widely perceived as one of the best attended Games in history.
“I don’t know when the decision is likely to be made as to when fans are allowed in,” he said of the Tokyo Olympics, which are set to feature more than 11,000 athletes from July 23-August 8.
“I hope it’s not made too early because I see no reason why decisions need to be force-fed when the world is changing, vaccines are being rolled out and I think that that is a decision that doesn’t necessarily need to be made at this moment.”
Tokyo 2020 organisers have stressed that public safety will be “top priority” at the Games, and are set to take a decision on overall attendance limits in April.
The organising committee announced Monday that two test events scheduled for late April — for skateboarding and shooting — will now be held in May.
As a former track star who thrived in packed arenas over 800 and 1500m, Coe was in no doubt what the more attractive option was.
“The answer is a simple one: is it better to have people in a stadium when you have live sport? Yes, it is.”