Japan's 2021 Olympics Could Lose $800 Million in Ticket Sales as Officials Mull No Fans at Events

Athletes slated to compete in Japan's 2021 Olympics may perform to empty stands, officials in Japan's ruling party announced Thursday, a decision that could mean millions in ticket sale losses for the country.

The international games could still be canceled altogether due to COVID-19 concerns, Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in a show recorded by Japan's TBS TV.

Organizers estimated around $800 million from ticket sales, their third-largest source of revenue.

A study from Oxford University put the overall costs associated with the Tokyo Games at $15.84 billion. Audits by the Japanese government suggest spending could be twice as much, and all but $6.7 billion comes from public money.

Just a day after Japan reached 100 days left until the games, Nikai said the games should be canceled if they "become impossible" due to the country's surging infection rate.

"What is the point of the Olympics if it's responsible for spreading infections? We will have to make a decision at that point," he said.

Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, recorded 1,208 new cases on Thursday, the third straight day that new cases surpassed 1,000, according to public data. Tokyo saw 729 cases, and both cities have been under alert status since the beginning of April.

But Prime Minister Toshihide Suga, Olympic organizers, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Paralympic Committee contradicted Nikai's comments. Suga said in a statement that there was "no change to the government position to do everything to achieve safe and secure Olympics."

Organizers said Suga "has repeatedly expressed the government's commitment" to holding the Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto (L) and craftsman Kimiaki Kono, who created a special Tokyo 2020 branded shamisen, a Japanese three-stringed instrument, attend a Tokyo 2020 press event of a traditional crafts collection in Tokyo on April 15, 2021. Officials said Thursday that the delayed games might have no spectators or be canceled altogether if cases continue to rise in Japan. Yuki IWAMURA / AFP/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Asked if a cancellation was still an option, Nikai said: "Of course."

But he also added: "It is important for Japan to have a successful Olympics. It is a big opportunity. I want to make it a success. We will have many issues to resolve and prepare, and it is important to take care of them one by one."

Japan has attributed 9,500 deaths to COVID-19, good by world standards but poor by results in Asia.

Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan government taskforce warned that the new variant could replace the conventional virus and trigger explosive infections by early May. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to take maximum protection and asked non-Tokyo residents not to visit the area.

Taro Kono, the government minister in charge of Japan's vaccine rollout, said even if the Olympics go on, there may be no fans of any kind in the venues. He said it's likely that the Olympics will have to be held in empty venues, particularly as cases surge across the country.

That means only television cameras and still cameras will be around to record the action, joined by some reporters, judges and match officials.

The delayed Tokyo Olympics are to open in just over three months on July 23, and the Paralympics follow on Aug. 24. Fans from abroad have already been banned. Now even Japanese spectators could be kept away.

"I think the question is how to do the Olympics in a way that is possible in this situation," Kono said Thursday on a television talk show. "That may mean there will probably be no spectators."

Kono did not suggest the Olympics would not go ahead, but he said they could be held under only "certain conditions."

"The way these Olympics will be held will be very different from past ones," he said.

Tokyo organizers have said they expect to announce a decision this month on the number of fans allowed into each venue.

Any shortfall will have to be made up by Japanese government entities, which are already footing most of the bills.