The Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is held in Greece on March 12. XINHUA
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics doesn’t start until July, but officials are already taking precautions to protect athletes and fans amid the novel coronavirus.
On March 12, the Olympic torch lighting ceremony was the first to be held without spectators in more than 35 years due to the threat of COVID-19.
The iconic flame was lit in the ancient town of Olympia, Greece. This year, the Greek Olympic shooting champion Anna Korakaki became the first woman in history to launch the Olympic relay.
During the torch’s traditional journey through Greece, it arrived in the Peloponnesian town of Sparta on March 13. Despite the country’s restrictions on public gatherings, hundreds of people attended the event to see this year’s notable torchbearers, including Hollywood actor Billy Zane and Scottish actor Gerard Butler.
The high turnout for the event forced Greece to cancel the Olympic flame’s remaining stops in other Greek cities.
The handover of the torch to Japan took place in the Greek capital Athens on March 19 before being brought to Japan. Tokyo 2020 said that it would ensure the Olympic Torch Relay safely begins on March 26.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has also hugely affected Japan’s Olympic preparations and forced the postponement, cancellation or relocation of several qualifying tournaments.
However, both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo 2020 organizers are keen to press on with the event.
“We are strengthened in this commitment by the many authorities and sports organizations around the world who are taking so many significant measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” IOC president Thomas Bach said on March 12.
In a press release, the IOC also said, “Given the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing, the health and safety of the thousands of torchbearers, spectators and staff will be the first priority.”
As countries around the world are introducing stricter measures to quell the newly termed pandemic, it’s unclear whether these decisions will affect the Olympic Games. “It can’t be said that the announcement of a pandemic would have no impact ... but I think cancellation is unthinkable,” Tokyo’s governor Yuriko Koike told the Guardian.