Japan held a ceremonial kickoff for the Summer Olympics by starting a relay of the Olympic torch around the country. It was a symbolic message that the Games are going ahead despite public skepticism and pandemic restrictions that will block overseas spectators from attending.
The torch will be carried through all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, or states, by about 10,000 runners, skiers, swimmers and others, before being brought into the Olympic stadium in Tokyo on July 23 for the opening ceremony. The Olympics was delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Of course, the relay alone won’t resolve all the challenges that we’ve had, but I hope that a successful event will give everyone confidence in the steps we’ve taken to ensure we’re able to hold the Games despite the pandemic,” Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Officer Toshiro Muto said.
The relay began near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where three reactors melted down in 2011. Event organizers want the relay and the Games to be seen as a sign of recovery from the major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in northern Japan. Thousands of people remain unable to return to their homes near the power plant.
The relay is a major test of whether the Olympics can be held without worsening the pandemic in Japan, where new coronavirus cases have begun to slowly rise again following a third wave of infection. The organizers of the relay have asked the public to follow the event on television and live streaming, and have said they would suspend it if too many people gather to watch it.