The Olympic flame handover ceremony has been held at an empty Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Games in 1896, amid coronavirus pandemic which has cast doubt on the global sporting event. The torch was received by Tokyo Games representative and former Olympic swimmer Naoko Imoto during a brief ceremony closed for spectators due to the threat of coronavirus.
Greece's Olympic Committee chief Spyros Capralos handed over the torch Imoto inside a vast 50,000-capacity empty stadium. Few officials sitting in the stands clapped when the torch was handed over before it was transferred into a small receptacle to fly it to Japan in a special aircraft named ‘Tokyo 2020 Go’.
The Olympic flame is on its way to #Tokyo2020 🔥— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) March 19, 2020
Tokyo Organizing committee representative Naoko Imoto has received the flame and it will now be transported to Miyagi prefecture in a specially designed #Tokyo2020 lantern. 🇯🇵#OlympicTorchRelay #UnitedByEmotion pic.twitter.com/963rIXeGtQ
The torch will arrive in Japan on March 20 to kick off a domestic relay on March 26. However, the organising committee has announced measures during the relay to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Addressing a news conference on March 17, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee CEO Toshiro Muto announced the steps related to combating COVID-19 which include cancelling some events and restricting public access to others along the torch relay route.
While there has been speculation around the possible cancellation of the global event, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government have insisted that the games will go ahead as planned. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on March 17 that the Group of Seven leaders support the Tokyo Olympics Games in its “complete” form.
Abe reportedly told the G7 leaders that Japan is doing everything in power to prepare for the games and they want to aim for a complete event as proof that “mankind can defeat the new coronavirus”. At a news conference, Japan’s Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said that the term “complete” referred to holding the event as scheduled in the presence of spectators.
Hashimoto had dismissed the speculations over possible cancellation or postponement of Tokyo Olympics saying it is “inconceivable”. The Olympics Minister told the Parliament that the athletes have been making adjustments and preparations for this once-in-four-years event and it is inconceivable to cancel or postpone it.
“It is the IOC (International Olympic Committee) who will make a final decision on the Games...we think it is important that the government gives correct information so that the IOC makes an appropriate decision,” said the minister in the Parliament.