The Olympic torch has started its relay march to Tokyo. And with this, officially, the countdown to the eventful 2020 Games, already postponed for a year due to the covid pandemic and whose protocol continues to be marked by security measures against the coronavirus. The flame will arrive in the Japanese capital on July 23 and will burn in the Olympic Stadium until the closing of the event, on August 8.
The organizers hope that the 121-day procession, in which some 10,000 runners will participate and that will cross the 47 Japanese prefectures, generate enthusiasm among the Japanese public towards a Games that, according to the polls, a large part of the population would prefer to be canceled definitely.
The Japanese government wants to promote the sporting event as a symbol of global recovery after the pandemic. Also of national regeneration, after the triple disaster of 2011, when an earthquake, a tsunami and the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 shook Fukushima prefecture, leaving more than 18,000 dead and missing and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate. . That the starting point of the relay was located in a training center in that prefecture was intended to underline this revitalization.
But, with the pandemic still out of control in most of the world, the departure ceremony has played out in a more understated tone than the original aspirations. To maintain a safe distance, only about 150 people were able to be in the audience to attend a traditional drum dance and listen to brief speeches before the first carriers, the Japanese women’s soccer team that won the 2011 World Cup – few months after the Fukushima disaster – they will start the first Olympic flame relay.
“The Olympic flame begins a 121-day journey, carrying hopes and wishes for world peace throughout Japan,” declared the president of the organizing committee, former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto. May the torch “reach the opening of the Games full of hope for everyone, in Japan and in the world, that it shines in the dark and illuminates the way.”
The relay march will be a key opportunity for the organizers to demonstrate to a very skeptical public that the Games can take place without incident or spread the covid. The procession takes place under strict preventive measures, which have led the authorities to recommend that the route be followed online and that travel to watch the torch pass be avoided. They also ask that those who see it live – who will have to wear a mask – limit themselves to clapping and not shouting encouragement to the bearers, who will be relieved every 200 meters. The corridors, in turn,
They will have to leave their health information and avoid meeting other people on the eve of their trip.
Last weekend, the International Olympic Committee, the organizing committee and the Japanese authorities agreed that this edition of the Games will be held without an audience residing abroad, as a preventive measure against the pandemic. A decision will be made on the attendance of Japanese resident viewers next month. Tokyo has kept its borders closed to temporary visitors since December, when a new wave of covid began to spread around the world.
Despite the fact that Japan has already begun its vaccination campaign, and the country has managed to keep its number of infected during the pandemic relatively low – about 450,000 – the public maintains its resistance to the Games, in which they are expected to participate close to 15,000 athletes from all over the world. A survey by the Kyodo news agency found last weekend that almost 40% of citizens prefer not to celebrate, while only 23.2% are in favor of continuing.