Tokyo Olympics – Olympic Torch Relay: The Tokyo Olympic organizers are considering staging this year’s Olympic torch relay away from public roads if a state of emergency is in effect where it is being run, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday.
The relay will depart the J-Village soccer training center in Fukushima Prefecture on March 25, and travel the length and breadth of the nation through all 47 prefectures over a span of 121 days. But with just two months to go and Japan confronting a surge of coronavirus infections, the organizing committee is rushing to take concrete countermeasures.
In the original planning for the event, virtually every step of the torch’s journey was to be a rousing public event. However, organizers have now contacted local executive committees and informed them of the new situation, which could involve flame-arrival ceremonies being held behind closed doors.
There have been concerns that celebrities taking part in the relay would attract crowds to the torch route, making it difficult to observe social distancing. To combat that, one proposal has emerged to hold relay segments where entry can be restricted, such as in parks.
Japan PM, IOC, IPC deny Olympics to be canceled
Earlier, the major stakeholders in this year’s Tokyo Olympics denied on Friday a news report that the Japanese government has privately concluded the games will have to be canceled due to the coronavirus and that the host nation is seeking to host them in 2032, the next available year.
Japan, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Paralympic Committee each issued a denial of a report in the British daily The Times.
The IOC reiterated the Japanese government’s response to the report, calling it “categorically untrue,” while the IPC issued a broad statement of unity.
“The IPC, IOC, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, and all delivery partners are fully committed and focused on delivering safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer,” the IPC said in its statement. “This position has not changed and has been confirmed once again today by the IOC, Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese government.”
The Times quoted a senior member of the ruling coalition as saying there is an agreement that the games, already postponed a year from the summer of 2020, are doomed and the aim now is to find a face-saving way of announcing the cancellation that leaves open the possibility of Tokyo playing host at a later date.
“We would like to fully deny (the report) by saying there is no truth to it (report of cancellation),” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai said at a regular press conference.
“Of course we have to take into account the situation abroad, and we will decide on whether to actually hold the event at some point, but until then, the Japanese government will do what needs to be done,” he said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has repeatedly said holding the games would be “proof that humanity has defeated the virus,” told the Diet the same day that the government is “considering specific anti-virus measures” to realize a safe game.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike also dismissed the report, saying that cancelation and postponement of the games have not been discussed. “I think we should submit a complaint,” she said at a press conference.
The IPC explained some of the planning already in place to combat the virus’ threat and the rationale behind the confidence expressed.
“In early February, the IOC, IPC, and Tokyo 2020 will publish the first editions of Playbooks targeting Games stakeholders. These Playbooks will start to explain exactly how we aim to deliver this summer’s event and outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the Games must follow to ensure safe and secure Games,” the statement read.
“By the time of the Games this summer, we are optimistic that daily case numbers will be much lower than during these dark winter months.”
What did IOC Committee Chief Thomas Bach say?
On Thursday, International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach told Kyodo News in an online interview that there is “no plan B” even as doubts grow amid a sharp resurgence of coronavirus cases in the capital and other major cities in Japan.
“We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,” Bach said in the interview two days ahead of marking six months until the rescheduled event begins.
“This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to making these games safe and successful,” he said.
Despite the IOC and the Japanese government reiterating their determination to hold the Olympics this year, the situation is becoming increasingly uncertain with the virus resurgence in the country.
The central government declared a state of emergency on Jan. 7 in the Tokyo region and expanded it six days later to some other major prefectures including Osaka, Aichi, and Fukuoka.
A Kyodo News poll earlier this month showed around 80 percent of the respondents in Japan believe the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be canceled or rescheduled.