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Tokyo Olympic organizers receive flame amid coronavirus uncertainty

Tokyo Olympic organizers receive flame amid coronavirus uncertainty
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The Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers on Thursday received the Olympic flame to take to Japan amid the global coronavirus crisis that has left some questioning whether the games will happen.

The handover ceremony for the flame in Athens was significantly scaled-down, with a few dozen officials in an empty stadium meant to hold 50,000 people, Reuters reported. The flame will travel aboard the special aircraft “Tokyo 2020 Go” to arrive on Friday.

Once it arrives, it will be used to start a domestic relay starting March 26 in Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the 2011 earthquake, for 121 days until the start of the Games’ opening ceremony on July 24. 

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But the spreading coronavirus has cast doubt on whether the global, multibillion dollar event will happen. A six-day torch relay scheduled before the handover ceremony in Greece was canceled with the country mostly on lockdown because of the pandemic, Reuters reported. 

The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government have maintained that the Games will continue as scheduled and denied rumors of cancellation or delay.

Tokyo Games chief Yoshiro Mori said he hoped that the flame’s arrival would lift Japan’s spirits, according to Reuters.

“Tokyo 2020 commits to be in readiness for the Games as planned,” Mori said. “The concept of the Tokyo relay is ‘Hope lights our way’. I hope that the light will shine on the hearts of people all over in Japan and that will shake off the dark clouds hanging over the earth.”

More than 222,600 people have been infected with the virus worldwide, with more than 9,100 deaths. More than 84,500 people have recovered from the outbreak, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of several sports events and tournaments, including March Madness.