Spectators will be allowed to line up on the course when the Olympic flame begins its relay through Japan next month, but cheering will be strictly prohibited, organizers said Thursday.
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The torch relay was canceled days before its launch last year, when Japan and Olympic officials made the unprecedented decision to postpone Tokyo-2020 for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite continued concerns for the Games this summer, organizers say the event will be able to take place and the torch relay will launch as scheduled on March 25.
However, “the infection situation will vary from region to region, we have to take this into account and it will be very important to have a meticulous approach,” Tokyo-2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told reporters. .
“We want to gain understanding from people in every region and connect the whole country under the concept of the Torch Relay + Hope Lights Our Way +”.
The relay will depart from a symbolic site in Fukushima, highlighting Tokyo-2020’s role as the “Reconstruction Olympics,” a tribute to rehabilitation efforts ten years after the deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 in the northeast of Japan.
But the relay will be a much more sober event than usual. Spectators will be allowed to watch the torch go by, but will be required to wear masks, avoid crowds and only attend certain segments of the relay near their homes.
“They must support with applause or using things handed out rather than shouting or cheering,” the guidelines warn, adding that social distancing is needed. “Individual segments of the relay will be suspended if there is a risk of congestion.”
The presence at certain points of the course will be done only by reservation and the information concerning the bearers of the flame will only be communicated at the last minute, further specify the directives.
“We are not trying to discourage people” but “the most important thing is to avoid having congested areas,” said Teruhiko Okada, executive director of the torch relay office.
The torchbearers may run without a mask provided they keep a sufficient distance from the others. Runners and staff participating in the relay must keep an accurate medical record within two weeks of their participation and are asked to avoid risky activities, including eating out or going to crowded places.
But organizers say the relay will not automatically be stopped if a runner who has participated then tests positive. The “basic policy” will be to continue, unless there is a large “cluster”.
Around 300 foreign runners were due to take part in the relay last year, but organizers said it would be “very difficult” for them to come this year. Japan’s borders are closed to almost all foreigners under sanitary measures.
Parts of Japan are currently under a state of emergency which must be lifted by March 7. But the guidelines warn segments of the relay could be suspended if a state of emergency is reimposed in areas where the Olympic flame is to pass.
The relay must go through the 47 departments of Japan, but some are opposed. Tatsuya Maruyama, governor of the sparsely populated Shimane department (western Japan), has warned that he could cancel the event if the coronavirus situation does not improve, according to local media.
The Tokyo Olympics are due to open on July 23 and organizers have set very strict health measures to organize the event “safely”, even though the pandemic is not yet over.
The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, said on Wednesday that a decision on the presence of foreign spectators could be taken in April or early May.