World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has reiterated that the Tokyo Olympics will take place in July despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Japan – and promised that the competition will be “extremely good” even if there are no spectators.

Coe was speaking after attending a half marathon test event in Japan’s northern city of Sapporo, which he said made him confident that the Olympic marathon and race walk events would be held successfully in the city after the Games open in 78 days’ time.

However, he conceded that there concerns, with 70-80% of the Japanese public opposed to the Games and only about 2% of the population vaccinated for Covid-19. The country has reported over 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

“You can understand the concern,” Coe told a news conference. “The challenges are big. I don’t believe any Olympic Games has been delivered under more difficult circumstances. These Games have an overlay of complexity that is beyond most comprehension.”

Organisers will decide next month whether fans can attend Olympic events, but supporters from abroad have already been banned. However, Coe said that athletes had become used to competing at stadiums without crowds.

“Everybody, the athletes particularly, will hope for spectators,” he said. “But I think they recognise that if that’s not possible then the Games will still take place and the competition will still be extremely good.”

Sebastian Coe inspects the half-marathon test event for the Tokyo Olympics.
Sebastian Coe inspects the half-marathon test event for the Tokyo Olympics. Photograph: Issei Kato/AFP/Getty Images

Spectators were encouraged to stay off the streets of Sapporo during the race and told not to watch the race in person. To try and discourage people, security officials held signs that read: “Please refrain from watching the event from here.”

Sapporo confirmed a record 246 new infection cases on 2 May, as well as five deaths. It was the first time the daily infection tally has exceeded 200 in the city.

The smattering of competitors from abroad were largely restricted to their hotel rooms while not competing or training. Coe said strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid were followed: “Today Sapporo demonstrated the highest level of capability to organise successful marathon and race walk events.”

Tokyo is officially spending £11.1bn to hold the Olympics, and some estimates say it is twice that much. The IOC is pushing on with the Games, partly because 73% of its income is from selling broadcast rights.



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