Higashimatsushima: The Olympic flame arrived in Japan to a scaled-down welcoming ceremony Friday as doubts grew over whether the Tokyo Games will go ahead on schedule with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos around the world.
As the flame, enclosed in a special lantern, landed on a charter flight, a Japanese Olympic Committee member broke ranks to call for a postponement and Olympics chief
Thomas Bach admitted, “different scenarios” were under consideration.
“Of course we are considering different scenarios, but we are contrary to many other sports organizations or professional leagues in that we are four-and-a-half months away from the Games,” Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, told the New York Times.
“For us, (postponement) would not be responsible now and it would be premature to start speculation or make a decision at a time when we do not have any recommendation from the task force,” he added.
Reflecting the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, the flame’s arrival at Matsushima Air Base in Japan’s north was a muted affair after organizers were forced to cancel plans to invite 200 schoolchildren.
Former Olympic judo champions Saori Yoshida and Tadahiro Nomura lit a ceremonial cauldron in front of a few dozen officials and guests.
“Children had planned to welcome the Olympic flame, but we decided to scale it down, giving priority to their safety,” said Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori.
The nationwide torch relay begins on March 26, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima that was used as a base for workers during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
But organizers have been forced to scale back the relay, closing daily ceremonies to the public and urging spectators to “avoid forming crowds” along the route.