Overseas spectators barred from attending Tokyo Games 'sad and upsetting', athletes and families say

Susannah and Lesley Townsend and Thomas Young
Lesley Townsend is sad that she won't get to watch her daughter Susannah at the Olympics, while Thomas Young will miss the support of his family. Credit: Lesley Townsend/Thomas Young

Athletes and their families are reacting to the "sad and upsetting" news that international spectators won’t be able to attend the Olympics and Paralympic Games in Japan this summer. 

Foreign fans are barred from attending the postponed Games due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed.

 It means supportive families won’t be able to share in their loved ones’ sporting success.

For Thomas Young, the T38 (mild to moderate co-ordination impairment) 100m and 200m European Champion, it means his parents and grandparents will miss out on the chance to watch him run the "most important race of my life". 

Tokyo will be his first Paralympic Games so it is "sad and upsetting" that his family won’t be watching, he says, but he understands the reasons why. 

Young told ITV News he’ll be looking forward to a full crowd at the 2024 Games in Paris and knows his family will be supporting him from home this year. 

The announcement is bittersweet for the parents of athletes too. 

Lesley Townsend has watched her daughter Susannah’s hockey-playing career go from strength to strength.

"It’s really very sad" that parents won’t be able to travel to support their children, she said, but added the decision is "not surprising".

The mother-of-five is relieved she can look back on the memories of Rio when she "digged deep" to make sure that by the time her daughter won her gold medal the whole family were in Brazil to share the moment.

"We were all there to watch her get that gold medal...it was fantastic," she recalls. 

Susannah Townsend's entire family was in Rio to see her get her gold medal. Credit: Lesley Townsend

A British Olympic Association (BOA) spokesperson said: “This is very sad news, not only for British fans but particularly for the family and friends of athletes.

"Whilst it is a very disappointing situation, it does underline the organisers’ determination to stage a safe and secure Olympic Games.

“We are now awaiting detailed clarification from the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee on several points, including the detail of the restrictions, process and timing of refunds for international ticket holders and will stay in touch with fans to keep them updated.

"We will communicate promptly and clearly as and when any information becomes available.”

As coronavirus restrictions ease in the UK, both Young and Townsend welcomed the idea of outdoor screenings for fans wanting to cheer on Team GB from home.