ATHENS: Greece’s Olympic Committee said it had cancelled the remainder of the Olympic Torch relay through the country on Friday to avoid attracting crowds that could raise the risk of coronavirus contagion.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics torch relay got under way on Thursday when the flame was lit by the rays of the sun in ancient Olympia in a ceremony that was scaled down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The flame’s journey in Greece had been due to last seven days. On Friday it arrived in the Peloponnese town of Sparta, where Scottish actor Gerard Butler also ran as a torchbearer.

Butler had starred as the ancient Spartan King Leonidas in the 2007 epic ‘300’, and repeated his famous line from the movie — ‘This is Sparta’ — for gathered media.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch as the torch passed through.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee said the opening leg of the relay had attracted unexpectedly high crowds, forcing it to suspend the remaining stops after consultations with the Greek Health Ministry and the International Olympic Committee.

The handover of the flame to the Tokyo Games organisers will take place as scheduled in the Greek capital Athens on March 19 — without spectators.

The HOC noted that crowds had ignored “repeated warnings” not to gather in force at stopovers in the torch relay.

By late Thursday, Greece had registered 117 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death.

Tokyo officials said in a statement they are continuing their plans for a torch relay in Japan.

“In line with the countermeasure policy set by the national government, we will work closely with all municipalities and related organisations in Japan to ensure the Olympic torch relay safely begins on March 26,” organisers said.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2020

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