TOKYO – The torch relay for the postponed Tokyo Olympics began its 121-day journey through Japan on Thursday and is aligned with the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.
The staggering began in northeast Fukushima Prefecture, the area devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and the collapse of three nuclear reactors in 2011. About 18,000 died in the tragedy,
The first woman to run the torch was Azusa Iwashimizu, a key player in the Japanese team that won the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
In a white tracksuit, she carried the torch from the J-Village indoor soccer training center and was surrounded in the back by 14 other members of the World Cup squad and coach Norio Sasaki. They were also dressed in white tracksuits.
The ceremony was closed to the public for fear of the spread of Covid-19, but it was broadcast live.
“The Tokyo 2020 torch will be a bright light of hope for Japanese citizens and citizens of the world and a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Seiko Hashimoto, president of the local organizing committee and former Olympian.
Fans have been urged to distance themselves socially on the roadside when the torch goes by and should refrain from cheering loudly. Organizers have announced that they will stop or redirect the relay if the crowd becomes an issue during the four-month parade.
The spectators worked together in Naraha Town, just down the street from where the torch began its journey. A few hundred people stood by the roadside and were safely distributed.
“I didn’t think about it much at first,” said 20-year-old Takumu Kimura. “But when I actually saw it, it felt like: – Yeah, it’s the Olympics.”
Setsuko Hashimoto, a 63-year-old local resident, was emotional when the torch passed by.
“There was a nuclear accident ten years ago. When I saw the torch, I felt like I could really look forward to something and live,” she said. “If you’re my age, this will be the last Tokyo Olympics and it’s here. It was very touching.”
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga interfered with a statement from Tokyo.
“The Olympic torch relay starting today is a valuable opportunity for people to get an idea of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Suga told reporters.
The organizers confirmed a bit of bad luck: the flame in the torch was blown out during a portion of the season. As with other Olympics, it was lit by a spare lantern that also carries the flame that was lit in Greece more than a year ago.
“The flame came from a defective burner,” the organizers said in a statement. “It is not uncommon for a flame to go out and this can happen for a number of reasons, such as extreme winds.”
Local organizers and the International Olympic Committee hope that the relay will help turn Japanese public opinion in favor of the beleaguered Olympic Games. The feelings expressed so far in surveys in Japan are mostly negative. About 80 percent indicate a further delay or cancellation.
Both the relay and the Olympics raise fears that the events could spread the virus. There is also opposition to the rising cost of hosting the Olympics, which is now officially valued at $ 15.4 billion. Multiple audits suggest it is twice as much, and a study by Oxford University says these are the most expensive Olympics ever recorded.
The season is a big test of the upcoming Olympics, with public fears that the event could spread the virus to rural and more isolated parts of the country. Vaccinations for the general public have not yet been introduced in Japan. Approximately 9,000 deaths in the country have been attributed to Covid-19.
Approximately 10,000 runners are expected, with the relay touching the 47 prefectures of Japan.
The relay is a prelude to the trouble the Olympic and Paralympic Games will create with 15,400 athletes in Japan and thousands of other officials, judges, VIPs, media and broadcasters.
Athletes are held in a “bubble-like” atmosphere in Tokyo and are limited to the Tokyo Bay Athletes Village, competition venues and training areas. Most of the others are outside the bladder and kept away from the athletes.
The organizers announced a few days ago that fans from abroad would be banned from participating in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Most of the volunteers from abroad were also excluded.
The organizers will announce the capacities of the venue in April. Ticket revenue for the Olympics was supposed to be $ 800 million, but the lack of fans will significantly reduce it. Japanese government agencies have to make up the deficit.