Tokyo Olympics 2020: Olympic flame lands in Japan amid concerns over impact of coronavirus on Games

A plane carrying the Olympic torch from Greece arrived on Friday on Japan’s north-western coast ravaged by a 2011 tsunami, but the welcome ceremony will have no spectators, amid worries the Games could be cancelled over the coronavirus pandemic.

Reuters March 20, 2020 09:07:56 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Olympic flame lands in Japan amid concerns over impact of coronavirus on Games

Higashimatsushima: A plane carrying the Olympic torch from Greece arrived on Friday on Japan’s north-western coast ravaged by a 2011 tsunami, but the welcome ceremony will have no spectators, amid worries the Games could be cancelled over the coronavirus pandemic.

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A plane carrying the Olympic flame arrives before Olympic Flame Arrival Ceremony at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Matsushima Base in Higashimatsushima. AP

The flame arrived at Japan Air Self-Defence Force’s Matsushima base and will tour the Tohoku region hit by the tsunami and earthquake, in what the organisers call a “recovery flame” tour until the official kick-off ceremony in Fukushima on 26 March.

Organisers have repeatedly said the Games, set to run from 24 July 24 to 9 August, will go ahead, but as the rapid spread of the virus brings the sports world to a virtual standstill, fears are growing that the Olympics may be postponed or cancelled.

The respiratory disease, which emerged in China late last year, has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide.

Japan is grappling with pressure to avoid a health crisis among 6,00,000 expected overseas spectators and athletes at an event that could see $3 billion in sponsorships and at least $12 billion (10.35 billion pounds) spent on preparations evaporate.

The plane with the torch arrived nearly empty after the Tokyo 2020 organising committee decided not to send a high-level delegation that was originally to have included its chief, Yoshiro Mori, and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.

The arrival ceremony at the base is scheduled to start later on Friday morning.

Organisers have urged the public not to crowd the relay route, cancelled many events along the way and have restricted public access to others. Runners and staff will have their temperature and health monitored, the organisers said.

The torch relay in Greece was cancelled to avoid drawing crowds.

Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the International Olympic Committee’s decision to go ahead was putting their health at risk when entire countries have shut down to curb the virus.

The relay is due to pass many of Japan’s most famous landmarks over a 121-day journey, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.

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