Crowds form at Olympic torch event in Japan despite virus caution

Japanese three-time Olympic gold medalists Saori yoshida, left, and tadahiro nomura light a tokyo 2020 Olympic cauldron with the Olympic flame. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 21 March 2020

Crowds form at Olympic torch event in Japan despite virus caution

  • Organizers have repeatedly said the Games, due to run from July 24 to Aug. 9, will go ahead

TOKYO: An Olympic torch event in Japan drew hundreds of spectators on the day of the flame’s arrival on Friday, creating the type of packed gathering the government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have warned against to prevent coronavirus from spreading further. 

About 500 people gathered in a jostling crowd to look at the flame and popular comedians taking part in a ceremony in Ishinomaki, 335 km (208 miles) north of Tokyo. 

The Greek part of the torch relay began last week, but a day later the remainder was canceled to avoid attracting crowds. 

“It is not a good decision (to come here) but I am not sure if I will get another chance to see the cauldron,” Ishinomaki resident and teacher Kiyotake Goto, 44, told Reuters. 

Earlier in the day, a plane carrying the torch from Greece arrived at Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Matsushima Air Base, which was devastated by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in 2011. 

No spectators were present for the arrival ceremony at the base, where officials pledged the Tokyo 2020 Games will proceed despite mounting pressure to halt the world’s biggest sporting event due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The event created the type of packed gathering the government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have warned against to prevent coronavirus from spreading further.
  • About 500 people gathered in a jostling crowd to look at the flame and popular comedians taking part in a ceremony in Ishinomaki.

“We originally planned to have children here to welcome the flame. But, prioritising their safety, we’ve decided to do without them,” Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said. 

“That was an agonizing decision ... We will do our utmost in preparing for a safe and secure event,” said Mori, a former prime minister. 

Organizers have repeatedly said the Games, due to run from July 24 to Aug. 9, will go ahead, but as the rapid spread of the virus brings the sports world to a virtual standstill, fears are growing that the Olympics may be postponed or canceled. 

“I think it’s impossible (to hold the Games). It’ll be a global issue if the virus spreads even further,” Koichiro Maeda, a 55-year-old company employee, told Reuters in downtown Tokyo. 

The respiratory disease, which emerged in China late last year, has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide. 

Japan is grappling with pressure to avoid a health crisis among 600,000 expected overseas spectators and athletes at an event that could see $3 billion in sponsorships and at least $12 billion spent on preparations evaporate. 

The plane with the torch arrived nearly empty after the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee decided not to send a high-level delegation that was originally to have included Mori and Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto. 

“This is a tough time. I hope the torch relay will bring people vigor and hope,” Saori Yoshida, three-time gold-medal winning wrestler, told the welcome ceremony. 

The flame will travel round the Tohoku region hit by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake, in what organizers call a “recovery flame” tour before the official kick-off ceremony in Fukushima on
March 26. 

Organizers have urged the public not to crowd the relay route, canceling many events along the way and restricting public access to others. Runners and staff will have their temperatures and health monitored, organizers said. 

Some athletes, including reigning Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi, said the International Olympic Committee’s decision to go ahead was putting their health at risk when entire countries have shut down to curb the virus. 

The torch relay will begin at J-Village, a soccer training center in Fukushima that served as an operations base for workers who battled triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the 2011 tsunami. 

It is due to pass many of Japan’s most famous landmarks over a 121-day journey to Tokyo’s Olympic stadium, including Mount Fuji, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Kumamoto Castle.


FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

Updated 07 April 2020

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

  • Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded Qatar's bid

LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new US Department of Justice indictment which says bribes were paid to football officials to secure their votes for hosting rights.

Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.

According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.

FIFA and the Qatar World Cup organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes.

Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the USallegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.

The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator — took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

“Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup,” reads the indictment.

Teixeira, the former son-in-law of long-time FIFA boss Joao Havelange and ex-head of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF), was not immediately reachable for comment.

The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.

Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running USprobe and is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.

Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent.

“At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents. We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”

Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the US indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to.

“Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.”

The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.

In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.

Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on UScorruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.