The torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics began a year late and without spectators on Thursday, signalling a significant step toward the start of the coronavirus-delayed Games on July 23. The rose-gold Olympic torch, shaped like a cherry blossom, was lit at Fukushima’s J-Village sports complex, which served as a base for operations following the 2011 nuclear disaster. Seiko Hashimoto, the president of Tokyo 2020, said at the launch ceremony that she wished the Olympic flame would be “a ray of light at the end of the darkness.”
“This little flame never lost hope and it waited for this day like a cherry blossom bud just about to bloom,” she added.
Tokyo Olympics Amid Coronavirus:
The national relay, like the Olympics, will be unlike any other, with spectators barred from cheering and kept away from the start and first leg due to concerns about coronavirus.
Fans will be able to line the route and clap as the flame is carried by 10,000 runners across the country, passing through all 47 prefectures before arriving at Tokyo’s National Stadium on July 23 for the opening ceremony.
However, if there are too many spectators in one place, portions of the relay may be halted, and onlookers must wear masks.
Last year, as organisers were finalising plans for the relay, the coronavirus forced the historic decision to postpone the Games., because everything, including sports, is halted.
Despite vaccine launches, the pandemic is still in full swing a year later, and officials are fighting public criticism in Japan about hosting the Olympics.
With international spectators barred from the Games and domestic fans likely to be limited, the relay is seen as a crucial opportunity to generate excitement.
“The torch relay is intended to communicate that the Olympics will take place,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters this week.
“It makes people feel that the Games are about to start — that’s the nature of the torch relay.”
The launch of the relay will refocus attention on the area devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
Although the pandemic has surpassed that message, torchbearers in Fukushima hope that the relay for Olympics will still glow a positive light on the region.
“From afar, Fukushima might look like a place where time has stood still,” Hanae Nojiri, a TV reporter told before the relay.
“But when people see the spectators lining the roads and the passion of the runners, I think they’ll update their image of the place.”