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First leg of Olympic torch relay is snuffed out by coronavirus

OLY-2020-JPN-GREECE-FLAME
Gerard Butler poses with the Olympic flame during a ceremony March 13 in ancient Olympia, Greece.
(Valerie Gache / AFP via Getty Images)

The initial phase of the Olympic torch relay, which traditionally wends through Greece before heading to the far-off host city, has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Concerned about spreading the virus, Greek officials made their decision after hundreds of spectators reportedly watched the flame being carried to the Peloponnese town of Sparta on Friday.

“This is even more regrettable after the huge success of the relay during its first two days with big crowds gathering along the route and at the ceremonies,” the Hellenic Olympic Committee stated.

The International Olympic Committee voiced support for the decision, but also reiterated its “full commitment” to staging the 2020 Sumer Games in Tokyo as scheduled. Japanese organizers similarly vowed to proceed with their more extensive relay later this month.

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“Tokyo 2020 will bring the Olympic flame back to Japan, and in line with the countermeasure policy set by the national government, we will work closely with all municipalities and related organizations in Japan to ensure the Olympic torch relay safely begins on March 26,” they said.

The torch’s path to Tokyo began Thursday with an unusually subdued ceremony before the Temple of Hera ruins in ancient Olympia. Spectators were barred from the event, with only a limited number of officials in attendance.

Greek Olympic leaders said they consulted with their country’s Ministry of Health concerning the ensuing relay. The flame will be handed over to Tokyo 2020 officials next week in a ceremony at Panathenaic Stadium, with fans again excluded.

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The 2020 Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin July 24.


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