Fate of Olympic torch relay in balance as virus worsens

The torches for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are manufactured at a factory in Tokyo in this photo taken on Jan, 31 and released by Kyodo on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Fate of Olympic torch relay in balance as virus worsens

TOKYO: The Olympic torch relay, due to begin Thursday from a symbolic site in Fukushima, will proceed as scheduled but organizers said they would reassess in the coming days given the “worsening” coronavirus situation.

“The torch relay will start on March 26 in Fukushima, the plan has not changed,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters, a day after the International Olympic Committee said it was considering postponing the Games due to the pandemic.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” admitted Muto, but he added: “For now, the decision made one week ago (to proceed as planned) is still appropriate.”

The coronavirus has already had a major impact on the torch relay. In what they described as a “heartbreaking” decision, organizers downscaled a ceremony on Friday to welcome the flame from Greece, keeping 200 children away.

They have also urged people following the torch to avoid forming crowds, and closed daily welcoming and departure ceremonies to the public.

The nationwide torch relay begins on March 26, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima that was used as a base for workers during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.




The torch for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is manufactured at a factory in Tokyo. (Kyodo/via REUTERS)

Muto said organizers would learn from the experience of this weekend when tens of thousands flocked to see the Olympic flame on display — forming exactly the sort of crowds they had hoped to avoid.

On Saturday, more than 50,000 people queued to watch the flame displayed at Sendai station in Miyagi, with some lining
up for several hours.

“This is evidence of interest from residents, so in one sense we were delighted,” said Muto, adding that their priority was to prevent the virus from spreading and putting in place “advanced countermeasures.”

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said: “We still have three days until the grand start on the 26th, so I told (IOC chief Thomas Bach) that we’d like to consult (with the IOC) while discussing with related parties. Mr. Bach said he will let us handle this.”

He said even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had voiced doubts over whether it was appropriate for him to attend the start of the relay.

“I said it is not our position to tell the prime minister if he should come or not, so please make a decision as the government.”Later Monday, US-based footballer Nahomi Kawasumi announced she was pulling out of the torch relay as she did risk potentially spreading the coronavirus.


Villa’s Grealish apologizes, fined for breaking isolation rules

Updated 52 sec ago

Villa’s Grealish apologizes, fined for breaking isolation rules

LONDON: Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish posted a public apology on Monday for breaking UK government guidelines on social distancing as police opened an investigation into an incident in which a Range Rover crashed into parked cars.
Villa expressed their disappointment with Grealish and said the 24-year-old will be fined with the proceeds going to a children’s hospital in Birmingham.
West Midlands Police said they were called on Sunday to an address in Solihull, near Birmingham, where the two parked cars suffered minor damage.
The force said the driver had left his details with a member of the public before leaving on foot.
“I just want to do a quick video message to say how deeply embarrassed I am about what has happened this weekend,” Grealish said in a video posted on Twitter.
“I obviously just got a call off a friend asking to go round to his and stupidly agreed to do so. I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake that I did, so I urge everyone to stay home and follow the rules and guidelines of what we are being asked to do.”
The British government has introduced restrictions on citizens leaving their homes only to shop for food and medicine, essential travel for work and one form of exercise a day to help halt the spread of coronavirus.
“Aston Villa is deeply disappointed that one of our players ignored the government’s guidance on staying at home during the Coronavirus crisis,” Villa said in a statement.
“Club captain Jack Grealish has accepted that his decision to leave his house was wrong and entirely unnecessary. It breached the government guidelines which are clear and should be adhered to by everybody.
“The player will be disciplined and fined with the proceeds donated to The University Hospitals Charity in Birmingham.”
Less than 24 hours before the incident, Grealish was part of a video appeal for people to stay at home during the lockdown.
“I hope everyone can accept my apology and we can move on from this,” added Grealish. “Hopefully in the near future we can all be out enjoying ourselves again.”
In a statement about the incident, West Midlands Police added: “Officers are investigating the circumstances and anyone with information has been asked to get in touch.”
Grealish has been Villa’s star performer on their return to the Premier League this season and was expected to earn a first call-up by England for friendlies against Denmark and Italy this month prior to football’s shutdown due to COVID-19.