The official countdown to the postponed Tokyo 2020 Games has begun as the primary group of runners carried the Olympic torch by way of Fukushima, in the primary check of measures that organisers insist will guarantee a “safe and secure” occasion in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
After a short opening ceremony (which was closed to the general public) on a soccer pitch contained in the J-Village coaching complicated, members of the Japan girls’s soccer crew started the torch’s 210-day journey by way of 859 places, culminating in the opening ceremony on the Olympic stadium on 23 June.
Seiko Hashimoto, the pinnacle of the Games’ organising committee, stated the beginning of the Olympic flame’s journey was a sign of hope. “For the past year, as the entire world went through a difficult period, the Olympic flame was kept alive quietly but powerfully,” she stated on the opening ceremony, which was attended by a small quantity of dignitaries.
“The small flame did not lose hope, and just like the cherry blossom buds that are ready to bloom, it was waiting for this day.”
The relay bore little resemblance to those who have preceded each summer time Olympics because it was first held on the Berlin Games in 1936.
The torchbearers, starting with Azusa Iwashimizu, half of the Japanese crew that received the ladies’s world cup in 2011, ran by way of sparsely-populated streets in Naraha – one of a number of communities that had been evacuated after the meltdown on the close by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plant.
Large crowds have been discouraged, and the few spectators who did prove had been requested to put on masks, socially distance and chorus from cheering or shouting.
The runners, who will every carry the cherry blossom-motif torch over a distance of about 200 metres, should maintain information of their well being situation and have been requested to not dine out with different folks.
The low-key preparations will stay in place over the following 4 months, when about 10,000 runners will take the torch throughout Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Fukushima had been chosen as the start line to underline the Games’ function in highlighting north-east coast’s gradual restoration from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami – which killed greater than 18,000 folks – and the ensuing nuclear catastrophe.
Hashimoto stated she hoped the relay would encourage folks in Fukushima who’re “still struggling to get their lives back to normal”.
Preparations for the relay have been pissed off by sexism rows that pressured the resignations of the president of the organising committee, Yoshiro Mori, and the inventive director of the opening and shutting ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki.
Several Japanese celebrities and sports activities stars have pulled out of the relay in current weeks – many citing “scheduling issues – whereas the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, stated this week that he wouldn’t be capable to attend resulting from urgent parliamentary enterprise.
On the eve of the relay, Homare Sawa, who led Japan’s girls’s soccer crew to world cup victory simply 4 months after the 2011 triple catastrophe, stated that she was pulling out, citing well being causes. She was adopted by determine skater and Olympic medallist Shoma Uno, as nicely as two well-known actors.
Suga instructed reporters that the federal government was cooperating with the Tokyo metropolitan authorities and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] to host a safe Games. “We will do our utmost in terms of coronavirus measures and continue to work with related areas to contain the spread of infections and hope to work towards a safe and secure Games,” he stated.
Despite the various setbacks, organisers are clinging to the hope that the torch’s look in Japan, a 12 months after it arrived from Olympia, will generate enthusiasm in the host nation. According to current opinion polls, most Japanese need the Games to be postponed once more or cancelled resulting from fears that they are going to spark a brand new wave of Covid-19 infections.
“We are fully aware that there still are people with anxieties around the Tokyo Olympic games,” Tokyo 2020’s chief government, Toshiro Muto, stated.
Japan has fared higher than most international locations throughout the pandemic, with fewer than 9,000 coronavirus deaths. But a 3rd wave of infections earlier this 12 months pushed the numbers to document highs, triggering a state of emergency in Tokyo and different areas that was lifted this week. Experts have warned that the nation might be on the verge of a fourth wave.
The opening ceremony – initially deliberate for 1000’s of followers as a celebration of Japan’s restoration from the 2011 catastrophe – was closed to the general public. A small group of Olympic and native officers had been entertained by taiko drummers and a youngsters’s choir.
Moments earlier than the torch left the venue, attendees had been requested to placed on masks and to applaud relatively than cheer, as a number of maskless members of the Japan girls’s soccer crew jogged into the road, applauded by native schoolchildren.
Olympic officers have stated that the relay might be paused if massive crowds type alongside the route. Hiromi Kawamura, who’s overseeing the relay, stated: “We’re asking people not to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. If it gets really crowded … if we feel the situation is dangerous, we’ll suspend the relay. Then we’ll start it again after we’ve made the area safe.”
The Olympic flame was lit in Greece on 12 March final 12 months at a ceremony held with out spectators. On 24 March – simply two days earlier than the relay was resulting from begin – the then Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and IOC head Thomas Bach bowed to the inevitable and agreed to delay the Games by a 12 months.