Tokyo Olympic torch relay kicks off amid COVID-19 worries


IWAKI, Northeast Japan, March 25 (Xinhua) — The torch relay for the postponed Olympic Games began its 121-day journey after a low-key opening ceremony at Japan’s northeastern Fukushima prefecture here on Thursday.

The ceremony, which was preceded by a performance from a group of residents from Fukushima, was closed to the public as organizers reduced the number of participants and simplified the program to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Azusa Iwashimizu, a member of Japan’s winning team at the 2011 women’s World Cup, became the first torchbearer. Joined by 14 other teammates and their coach Norio Sasaki, she started the relay from the indoor ground of the J-Village national football training center, which served as an evacuation center after the surrounding areas were devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in 2011.

Seiko Hashimoto, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee president, told an audience of 1,000, “For the past year as the entire world underwent a difficult period, the Olympic flame was kept alive quietly but powerfully. This small flame never lost hope and it waited for this day like a cherry blossom bud just about to bloom.”

Hashimoto, who competed in seven Olympic Games, said that the flame will “carry the hopes of the Japanese people and wishes for peace from people around the world” along the journey, which will cover all 47 prefectures of Japan before reaching the Olympic Games opening ceremony on July 23.

Also present at the start ceremony were Japan’s Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa and Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko.

Some of the football matches will be played in the disaster-hit area as the Tokyo Olympics has been billed the “Reconstruction Olympics” when the Japanese capital launched its bid soon after the disaster.

“Reconstruction Olympics’ has always been the theme for us,” said Koike. “Without reconstruction, the games cannot be successful.”

The torchbearers, who will each run a distance of about 200 meters, are required to log their health information and asked not to dine out with others. Organizers also warned spectators to avoid crowding along the roadside, wear masks, and avoid shouting or cheering. Enditem


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