The modern Olympics, for all its emphasis on ‘citius, altius, fortius’ (faster, higher, stronger), has been run on completely different messaging: The show must go on. It has survived terrorist attacks, a bitter proxy war and alarming viruses. The Covid pandemic almost brought down the establishment but, as it stands, it is on course to survive this as well, with just one change from the normal: a ban on international fans.
Even if the athletes contribute a major portion of the theatre one associates with big-ticket sporting events World Cups, Majors, F1 races, multi-discipline intra- and inter-continental games and the Olympics, to name a few—the paying public are generally responsible for the atmosphere and the colour associated with these tournaments. Sure, Japan’s myriad sports fans will buy tickets and go to stadia, but there is a big difference between the noise they bring in and the sound accompanying overseas fans. The overseas travelling fan is a unique breed; they live for experiences like these and their mere presence immediately lends more aura and authenticity to the experience. While locals will buy a ticket or two before checking out, the fans from overseas will stay in that country for a good two to three weeks, learn about the culture and visit as many stadia as possible. They elevate the spectacle. Even if it’s understandable as to why the organisers have decided to ban overseas fans from the Olympics in Tokyo, it is still a shame because it’s possible that spectacle and colour will be lost. For example, an Indian fan conversing with a Dutch fan in Rio de Janeiro while cheering on a Kiwi athlete added to the theatre in 2016. That will not be possible in Tokyo.
The bigger thing, from Japan’s perspective, is the loss of revenue as a result of this decision. Money will have to be refunded, hotels that accepted advance bookings will have to cancel them before giving back the money and an economy that depended on overseas fans for a timely boost will have to look elsewhere.