Tokyo Olympics organisers warn against big gatherings during torch relay

Published February 26, 2021
TOKYO: Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee president Seiko Hashimoto (R) speaks to Tokyo 2020 vice-director general Yukihiko Nunomura as they attend the opening remarks session of the press briefing on operation and media coverage of the 2020 Olympics Torch Relay on Thursday.—Reuters
TOKYO: Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee president Seiko Hashimoto (R) speaks to Tokyo 2020 vice-director general Yukihiko Nunomura as they attend the opening remarks session of the press briefing on operation and media coverage of the 2020 Olympics Torch Relay on Thursday.—Reuters

TOKYO: The Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee said on Thursday they could suspend the upcoming torch relay should big gatherings raise coronavirus infection risks, asking spectators to support by clapping.

The toned-down torch relay, which will begin on March 25 and travel through Japan, will be broadcast live to avoid gatherings on streets, Yukihiko Nunomura, senior executive at Tokyo 2020, told a media briefing.

He said the organisers had put off a decision whether to proceed with the relay in Tochigi prefecture, initially scheduled for late March, because the prefecture has called for unnecessary outdoor activities to be scrapped amid the pandemic.

“By any chance, if any dense gatherings happen on streets, torch relay can be stopped as we prioritise safety and security,” Nunomura said.

Stricter measures like no spectators are possible, with little visibility over how the coronavirus pandemic will play out, officials said. For torch relay ceremonies, eating and drinking are banned, but drinking water will be allowed to avoid the risk of heatstroke, according to the guidelines.

“The infection situation will vary from area to area, so we need to take that into account and it will be very important to have a meticulous approach,” Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters.

“We want to get the understanding of people in every area and connect the whole country under the torch relay concept ‘Hope Lights Our Way’.” Hashimoto later said she hopes a decision on how many fans are allowed into Olympic arenas will be taken around the time the torch relay begins.

Attendance at celebration venues along portions of the route will be by reservation only to limit numbers. And information on which torchbearers will run which sections will be released only at the last minute to avoid crowds gathering to watch celebrity runners.

“We’re not trying to discourage people from coming out to watch,” said Tokyo 2020’s torch relay office executive director Teruhiko Okada. “The most important thing is to avoid having crowded areas.”

The relay begins from the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima and will crisscross the country. It ends on July 23 at the opening ceremony in the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Fukushima is the part of Japan that was heavily damaged on March 11, 2011, by an earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors. The precise staring point of the relay will be J-Village located in the town of Naraha.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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