Tokyo Olympics: Flame arrives in Japan as doubts over Games remaining on schedule swirl

The Olympic flame often serves as a symbol of hope and inspiration about the will of the human spirit in the months leading up to the games. This year’s version has seemingly been more of an inspiration to those organizing the international competition than those participating in or watching it, though. As the coronavirus outbreak grows and impacts nearly every sporting event on earth, those in charge of the Olympics have insisted that the event will go on as planned. 

“For the first time in 56 years, the Olympic torch is heading to Tokyo and I hope that the Olympic torch will illuminate the path of hope for many people,” Tokyo’s organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said when the flame arrived in Japan on Friday at a scaled-down arrival ceremony, per the Associated Press.

The flame landed at the Matsushima Air Base from Greece in a tiny canister. The airplane that carried it had “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay” painted along its side, with “Hope Lights our Way” on the tail. Saori Yoshida and Tadahiro Nomura — three-time gold medalists in wrestling and judo, respectively — received the flame from the aircraft and handed it to Mori before the organizer gave his speech.

“We will work closely with the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government,” he said, and ensured “safe and secure games” based on the advice from the World Health Organization. Yoshida and Nomura then used the torch to ignite a large cauldron on the tarmac.

With the coronavirus global pandemic, concern over whether the Olympics should start on time has been a significant topic of discussion among organizers and officials from all over the world. Italian sports officials on Thursday made a desperate plea to the International Olympics Committee to reconsider moving forward with the Tokyo Games as scheduled. This came after IOC President Thomas Bach received support from others for holding firm on his commitment to the July 24 start date.

The flame will remain in northern Japan until March 26, when the relay officially begins. The country has the right to delay or stop the relay if conditions become to unsafe. Earlier this month, Greece had to stop its leg of the torch relay after the large crowds provided a serious risk of spreading COVID-19. Japan has a reported 900 cases of the disease.

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