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Olympic Flame handover ceremony takes place at eerily quiet stadium

Stephen Doyle
Stephen Doyle

14:11 19 Mar 2020

The Olympic flame was passed on to the organisers of Tokyo 2020 in a scaled-back handover ceremony in Athens on Thursday.

This year's Olympic Games have been thrown into doubt due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The behind-closed-doors torch ceremony took place at the Panathenaic stadium which is the site of the first modern Games in 1896.

The event normally attracts thousands of locals and visitors but under the strict lockdown measures in the Greek capital, only a few dozen officials were allowed to attend.

The torch was received by Tokyo Games representative Naoko Imoto and is due to land in Japan on Friday before beginning a domestic relay on March 26 in the build-up to the start of the Games on July 24.

It was supposed to complete a relay through Greece last week, leading up to the handover, but that had to be cancelled.

Greece is currently in lockdown having recorded 418 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths.

The outbreak of the disease has forced the cancellation and postponement of numerous sporting events and programmes around the world but the IOC and Tokyo Games organising committee are standing firm for now.

However, several athletes have cast doubt on the quality of competitions in the Japanese city, given that thousands cannot train at the moment due to restrictions placed upon them in many countries.

In Japan, 914 coronavirus cases were recorded as of March 19 along with 91 deaths, while 712 cases have been reported among the guests on the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored at Yokohama Port.

Japan was the second country to report a confirmed coronavirus case outside China.

The first case in Japan was reported on January 16 this year.

Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori said in a video message he hoped the flame’s arrival would help lift Japan’s spirits.

“Tokyo 2020 commits to be in readiness for the Games as planned," said Mori.

"The concept of the Tokyo relay is ‘Hope lights our way’.

"I hope that the light will shine on the hearts of people all over in Japan and that will shake off the dark clouds hanging over the earth."

Greece’s Olympic Committee chief Spyros Capralos handed over the lit torch to Imoto, a Japanese former Olympic swimmer, 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.”

The plane carrying the flame will land at JASDF Matsushima Air Base in Miyagi Prefecture on Friday.

The domestic relay will start from Fukushima Prefecture, site of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and will last for 121 days. It is planned to end at the Games’ opening ceremony with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

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