FANS CELEBRATE CYCLING AS ‘ONLY CHANCE’ TO WATCH TOKYO OLYMPIC GAMES

Coronavirus restrictions mean fans are banned from almost all Olympic venues in Japan. And even among the lucky few with a golden ticket, some are less than keen to attend. Michio Miura and his wife Mayumi wavered right up until the last minute on whether they should take advantage of having some of the few seats available for cycling in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo. Like many, they were worried about virus risks at a time when parts of Japan are under emergency measures to curb rising case numbers.

“If we caught coronavirus, it would cast a real shadow over the Games,” said Mayumi, who — unlike many in Japan — favored the Olympics going ahead despite the pandemic.

“In the end, we decided to come because it seemed that there wouldn’t be many people and there wouldn’t be much risk, given it’s held outdoors,” she added.

Fuji International Speedway

At the Fuji International Speedway venue, around 60 miles from Tokyo, the rules on Wednesday allowed for 10,000 spectators, less than half the venue’s capacity of 22,000. But only 2,600 showed up. And it’s a pattern seen elsewhere. After the decision was made to ban fans from most venues — with strict limits on the remaining sites — just 70,000 tickets remained out of 3.63 million sold before the Games were postponed. But of those, 30,000 requests for refunds have been submitted. And at another venue allowing fans, in northeastern Japan’s Miyagi region, only around 2,000 people have showed up to watch recent football matches — well below the 10,000 cap.

‘Our only chance’

Daisuke Ono, 37, came to watch the cycling on Wednesday with his wife and four children, but admitted he’d “hesitated” over the decision.

“But since Shizuoka is practically the only place where you can see the Games, it was our only chance,” he said. And not everyone is so hesitant. Some people have been showing up to events held on public roads in Tokyo, hoping for a chance to glimpse competition despite requests from authorities to stay away.

Naoto Sugiyama, 52, said he’d decided to come to the cycling because it was “an occasion not to be missed”. And the 52-year-old said he was disappointed that there was not a “crowd of supporters to encourage the riders”.

Tomoe Kogo, wearing a kimono printed with Olympic rings, said she had decided to come specifically because she did not think the venue would be full.

“I heard that a lot of people asked for refunds, so to be honest I figured there probably wouldn’t be crowds,” she said.

Venue manager Sarah Barton Smith told AFP she felt people were starting to warm to the Games.

“I think people are realizing that after all the negativity, this is their only chance to watch the Games,” she said.

“That did bring some people out.”

For some though, the lack of crowds was actually a plus, with Satoru Onishi saying it was “really nice that there weren’t many people.”

“It would have been awful if we were packed in like sardines.”

Wout Van Aert (BEL – Jumbo – Visma) – Tadej Pogacar (SLO – UAE Team Emirates)

RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini

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