The Tokyo Olympics torch relay began on Thursday with no spectators in attendance. The relay, a year late, has been heralded as a major step towards staging of the coronavirus-delayed Games on July 23. The rose-gold, cherry blossom-shaped torch was lit at the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima.
The complex had served as an operations base in response to the 2011 nuclear disaster. When Tokyo bid for the Games, it was billed as an occasion to showcase the country’s resilience in coming out of the Fukushima disaster.
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The relay launch of the Games, initially described as the “Recovery Olympics”, will put the spotlight back on the region affected by the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
With overseas spectators barred from the Games and limits likely on domestic fans, the relay is seen as a vital opportunity to build enthusiasm. Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said she hoped the Olympic flame would serve as "a ray of light at the end of the darkness".
Speaking at the launch ceremony, she added: "This little flame never lost hope and it waited for this day like a cherry blossom bud just about to bloom."
The relay will be held without any spectators cheering on (at least in the first leg due as a precaution against coronavirus). Fans will be able to line the route and clap as the flame criss crosses the country, carried by 10,000 runners and passing through all 47 prefectures. It will arrive at Tokyo's National Stadium on July 23, during the opening ceremony.
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However, there is a chance that parts of the relay could get suspended if too many spectators gather in one place. Masks have been made mandatory for onlookers.
The organisers were almost ready for the relay -- with the final preps in full swing -- when the coronavirus ran amok across the world, prompting the decision to postpone the Games.
It has been a year but there is no sign of the pandemic getting under control despite the fact that vaccination drives are on across the world. The organisers are battling odds on multiple fronts including public scepticism in Japan about the safety in holding the Olympics.
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