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Tokyo Olympics To Be A Dry Event After Organizers Abruptly Reverse Course

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games logo is pictured outside the Tokyo station in Tokyo on June 22.
AFP via Getty Images
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games logo is pictured outside the Tokyo station in Tokyo on June 22.

SEOUL, South Korea — Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics abruptly reversed a decision, announced the previous day, to sell alcohol at Olympic venues, following criticism from medical experts and ordinary Japanese.

The games are due to start in one month's time, despite calls for them to be canceled, due to the pandemic.

Organizers portrayed the decision as an anti-virus measure. A weekend poll by the Kyodo News Agency found 86% of respondents believe that the games would spread the coronavirus. But organizers also appear to be responding to charges of showing Olympic athletes and sponsors preferential treatment.

"Are the Olympics an exception, after having placed a burden of anti-infection measures on restaurant operators for so long?" Haruo Ozaki, Chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, asked at a recent press conference.

Tokyo is currently under restrictions that limit alcohol consumption to groups of no more than two people, for up to 90 minutes between 11 AM and 7 PM, at bars and restaurants that are certified as taking proper anti-infection measures.

Organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto said Monday that alcohol sales were being considered, but only on the condition that drinkers refrain from congregating or shouting at the venues.

There was also criticism that the decision to sell alcohol was motivated by commercial interests, specifically those of Olympic sponsors, such as Asahi Group Holdings, which holds exclusive rights to sell beer at the games.

Organizers announced on Monday that the number of domestic spectators at all Olympic events would be limited to 50% of venue capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people. Overseas spectators have already been banned. A decision on attendance at the Paralympics will be made on July 16th.

In another reversal, organizers announced Sunday that they would not be distributing condoms to athletes in the Olympic village, as has been the practice since the Seoul games in 1988.

The gesture, intended to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS and safe sex, drew criticism that organizers were distributing condoms, but not face masks. As a result, organizers will hand out the condoms to athletes after the games, as they leave the country.

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Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.