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Flag-bearer Keisuke Ushiro led out the Japanese delegation at the Rio 2016 opening ceremony


Tokyo to slash number of athletes at Olympics opening ceremony

TOKYO, Japan, Jan 18 – Tokyo Olympics organisers said Monday they will slash the number of athletes at the opening and closing ceremonies of this year’s coronavirus-delayed Games, as a report said thousands fewer will attend.

More than 11,000 athletes are expected to compete at the Tokyo Games, but anti-virus measures limiting the time they can spend in the Olympic Village mean not all will be able to attend the opening and closing festivities.

Organisers said they would also “reconsider” how many athletes can take part in the ceremonies, and how to get them into the stadium safely.

“In order to ensure the safety and security of the athletes and simplify operations at the Tokyo 2020 Games, we believe it is necessary to reconsider the number of participants at the opening and closing ceremonies and how they will enter the stadium,” the organising committee said in a statement.

A report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Monday said the International Olympic Committee expects only 6,000 athletes to take part in the July 23 opening ceremony, citing unidentified sources.

Tokyo 2020 organisers said the details are still being worked out in discussions with the IOC and other organisations, and “a specific approach has not been decided yet”.

– ‘Anything can happen’ –

The organising committee has insisted the Games can go ahead even if the virus has not been brought under control, and unveiled a raft of anti-virus measures in a 53-page interim report in December.

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The opening ceremony will take place at Tokyo’s National Stadium on July 23 © AFP / Philip FONG

Athletes cannot check in to the Olympic Village — which can accommodate 18,000 people — more than five days before their event, and must leave two days after finishing their competition.

A surge in infections in Japan and elsewhere around the world has cast fresh doubt over the Games, just over six months before the opening ceremony.

A Japanese cabinet minister last week admitted “anything can happen” with the Games, while reports at the weekend said a former IOC vice-president suggested the United Nations could be consulted on whether the event should go ahead.

Public support for the Games has plummeted in Japan, with a poll earlier this month finding that more than 80 percent believe the event should be cancelled or postponed again.

Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said Monday that Japan is committed to holding the Games as scheduled.

“There is no change in the government’s stance on the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” he said.

A surge in virus cases worldwide has thrown new doubt on whether Tokyo 2020 can open this summer © AFP/File / Behrouz MEHRI

“The people in charge of the Games are united in preparing for them to be a success and the government will take appropriate measures to support them.”

In late December, Tokyo 2020 chiefs picked a new creative director to redesign “simpler and more restrained” opening and closing ceremonies.

Organisers said the decision to replace a previous seven-person creative team would improve efficiency and reshape the traditionally lavish ceremonies to be “in tune with the situation”.

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