The Tokyo Olympics will limit the number of spectators to 10,000 people per venue to reduce the risk of the world’s biggest sporting games turning into a superspreader event.

The number will be set at either 10,000 or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is smaller, organizing committee chief Seiko Hashimoto said at a news briefing Monday following a meeting of the five parties responsible for the games.

That means Japan’s National Stadium, set to host the opening ceremony on July 23, will be at less than a sixth of its full capacity of 68,000. Organizers in March already announced overseas spectators will be barred from events. Pressure to reduce the number of domestic fans had been growing amid a resurgence of virus cases and public opposition against holding the games.

Tokyo and other urban areas ended a state of emergency on Sunday, with focused restrictions remaining in place for some regions through July 11. Spectators may yet be barred if the government resumes emergency conditions, the organizers said in a joint statement.

The government said last week it’s backing a 10,000-person limit on public events, which could be applied to the Olympics, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said he would like to see fans in the stands for the games.

The Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, appear to be on track, even though surveys show large numbers of the Japanese public want to call off or delay the event. While Japan still has by far the fewest recorded COVID-19 cases among the Group of Seven countries, the spread of more contagious variants has fueled concerns in a nation where vaccinations have been slow.


Shigeru Omi, chairman of Japan’s government advisory panel on the coronavirus, said on Friday it would be preferable to hold the games without spectators to minimize the risk of contagion.

“This is different from ordinary sporting events in terms of scale and the degree of interest,” Omi told reporters. If fans are allowed, their numbers should be limited more strictly than for other events, and only people who live locally should be eligible to attend, Omi said.

Most spectators will be from the greater Tokyo area, organizing committee Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto said at the briefing on Monday. They will be chosen by a lottery, he added.

A pickup in infections in April has already impacted pre-game events. Osaka canceled the Olympic torch relay on public roads, and other regions followed suit. Some test events were postponed or carried out without spectators, while qualifying events around the world have also been impacted.

Even with limited spectators and the exclusion of foreign fans, a large number of people will still converge on Tokyo from more than 200 countries — each with different rates of transmission, vaccination and viral variants. Organizers have said around 53,000 officials and others, excluding athletes, are expected to attend from overseas.

The Tokyo Olympic Committee in December estimated overall ticket sales of about 90 billion yen (US$820 million), or about 12 per cent of total expected revenue from the games. Domestic spectators made up most of the sales, with only about 9 per cent of the 10 million tickets that were initially expected to be sold going to overseas fans, the Nikkei newspaper reported in March.