The organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics received the Olympic flame in a low-key handover at the Greek capital on Thursday amid the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak that has raised doubts about the quadrennial event.
The torch was handed over to there Tokyo Games representative Naoko Imoto in a brief ceremony which was not open for the spectators at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Games that took place in 1896. The flame will arrive in Japan on Friday with the Games to start from July 24.
Olympic flame handover
The scale of the spreading coronavirus, which has infected more than 200,000 people and killed more than 8,700 across the world, has forced the cancellation of numerous sporting events, raising concerns about whether the Olympics will be able to open as planned. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government, however, have insisted the Games will go ahead.
Greece's Olympic Committee chief Spyros Capralos handed over the lit torch to the Japanese former Olympic swimmer Imoto in front of empty stands inside the vast 50,000-capacity horseshoe-shaped marble stadium. The flame was then transferred into a small receptacle to travel to Japan aboard a special aircraft named "Tokyo 2020 Go."
Few dozens were allowed into the stadium
Only a few dozen officials were allowed into the central Athens stadium as the country has imposed strict measures to contain the spread of the virus. Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori said in a video message he hoped the flame's arrival would help "shake off the dark clouds hanging over the world." The plane will land at JASDF Matsushima Air Base in Miyagi Prefecture on Friday before the start of a domestic relay from Fukushima Prefecture, site of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
(With agency inputs)