The Tokyo Olympics barred foreign fans. A ticket company won't offer full refunds.

·4 min read

Tens of thousands of American fans won’t receive full refunds for their Tokyo Olympics tickets — despite being told last week that, due to COVID-19, foreign spectators won’t be allowed to attend the rescheduled Games.

CoSport, a New Jersey-based company with exclusive rights to Olympic ticket sales in the U.S., told ticket holders Saturday that it will not refund a 20% handling fee, which for some fans means hundreds or even thousands of dollars down the drain.

CoSport, in an email to ticket holders, attributed its decision to Tokyo Olympics organizers’ refusal to cover this portion of the refund. “CoSport and other Olympic entities encouraged the Japanese Government and organizers to refund all costs incurred by international spectators,” the company wrote.

Organizers, however, will only refund face value plus shipping costs, CoSport said.

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Because neither CoSport nor organizers will take responsibility for the fees, fans — many of whom paid thousands of dollars two years ago — not only won’t get to go to the Olympics; they won’t get all their money back. And some are incredulous.

The confusing Olympic ticketing process

Olympic ticketing is complex. Local organizers contract with “Authorized Ticket Resellers,” and grant them the rights to distribute tickets in a given foreign country or territory. The base cost of a ticket itself goes back to Olympic organizers.

The resellers, as part of the agreement, get permission to charge handling or processing fees which go directly into their own bank accounts. To some degree, they cover operational costs. But Olympic organizers never see them.

In some other countries, resellers have said they will refund these fees. In the United Kingdom, for example, Team GB Live “won’t keep a penny of anybody’s money that’s been paid over.”

CoSport, nonetheless, argues that organizers should refund those fees after barring all foreign fans from the Tokyo Games. “This fee has been expended,” CoSport wrote. “In fact, due to the refund process, some of our costs, such as financial transaction processing fees and currency conversion, will be doubled.”

Ticket holders pressured to accept incomplete refund

CoSport has already come under scrutiny over the past year for its handling of the Olympic refund process. One customer told the Los Angeles Times that when she asked for a refund last summer, the company sent her a release form. She had only a few days to either sign it and “forever discharge and release CoSport and its affiliates from any and all claims arising out of or in connection with your order”; or void the refund.

The refund then didn’t arrive until a few weeks ago — and was only 75% of her original purchase. She told the Los Angeles Times that when she inquired, the company then sent her a new, backdated release form that specified a 75% refund, not a full one. Other customers have detailed similarly difficult processes.

And CoSport appears to have recently modified its terms and conditions for Tokyo Olympics purchases. Most of those purchases were made in 2019. The updated terms say they are effective February 17, 2021.

Saturday’s letter also gives customers less than two weeks to request a refund — despite telling them that they won’t receive the refund until Tokyo organizers return funds, which “will take up to the third quarter of this year.”

And applying for a refund also requires customers to “release CoSport from any further claim related to these orders,” just as customers were asked to do last summer.

This likely means that fans have two weeks to make a decision: Accept the incomplete refund and agree not to sue; or forego it and sue?

Some have floated the idea of a class-action lawsuit. It’s unclear whether such a suit would have any merit. It almost surely would take a lot of time and money to resolve.

People walk past the Olympic rings in Tokyo, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Organizers plan to exercise extreme caution when the Olympic torch relay starts next week. They know any stumble could imperil the opening of the Tokyo Games in just four months.  (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Japanese fans will be allowed to attend the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, but foreign spectators won't. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

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