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Greece bars spectators from Olympic torch lighting because of coronavirus concerns

Greece Tokyo Olympics Flame
Greek singer Sakis Rouvas holds the torch of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games during a presentation of the torch relay within in Greece, in Athens, on Feb. 24.
(Thanassis Stavrakis / Associated Press)

As part of a national effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak, officials in Greece have barred spectators from the traditional lighting of the Olympic torch, the start of festivities leading to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

The ceremony, scheduled for Thursday in ancient Olympia, usually draws thousands of spectators. This time, only a limited number of Japanese organizers and International Olympic Committee representatives will be on hand.

“Tokyo 2020 is grateful for the efforts of all parties involved to ensure that the ceremony will take place while taking into consideration the latest countermeasures by the Hellenic government against COVID-19,” organizers said.

Greece recently barred fans from sporting events and asked schools to suspend field trips for two weeks.

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A Japanese official suggests the host city has the right to postpone the Summer Olympics until the end of the year. IOC leaders downplay the threat.

“The transmission of the new coronavirus is spreading worldwide,” said professor Sotiris Tsiodras, a spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Health. “The whole of Europe is in an epidemic phase.”

As of the weekend, reported cases in Greece had risen to more than 70. It remains to be seen if officials will allow fans to attend next week’s handover ceremony, in which the flame is transferred to Japanese organizers.

The IOC has insisted on numerous occasions that the Summer Games in Tokyo, scheduled to begin July 24, will take place as planned.

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With hundreds of thousands of athletes, officials and fans expected to visit the capital city next summer, the Kyodo News cited an independent report that predicts Japan would see its gross domestic product growth fall by 1.4% if the Olympics were canceled.


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