TOKYO: Some 340 Japanese children will be unable to participate in the Olympic torch ceremonies for the handover in Greece and arrival in Japan due to precautions being taken against the spread of the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said on Friday.
Mori, a former prime minister who heads the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, again rebuffed speculation that the Games might be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Impossible,” Mori told reporters who asked about the potential cancellation. On Wednesday, when he was asked when the organisers could decide on any changes to the Olympics if the virus kept spreading he said: “I’m not a God so I don’t know.”
“Of course we are worried,” he added. “But the government is doing its utmost to battle the situation, and scientists are fighting against the challenges. I believe in the power of human beings and the efforts from around the world. But that doesn’t mean will just wait and hope.”
Mori referred obliquely to changes being made. The IOC says the 2020 Games will go on as planned, but others have speculated about postponing, canceling, moving events or changing cities, or even holding an Olympics without fans.
“The Tokyo Olympics should be held even if parts of it have to be modified,” Mori said. “But it does not mean we will scale it down.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Japan stood at 1,057 as of Friday morning. The virus has killed 12 people in Japan. Japanese sports events from sumo to football have been cancelled or moved behind closed doors as the outbreak grows, with 97,000 infections and more than 3,300 deaths in some 85 countries.
The Olympic torch will be lit in Olympia at a scaled-down ceremony on March 12 before a seven-day relay that will culminate with a handover ceremony in Greece on March 19, which 140 Japanese children had been slated to attend. Around 200 more were to have participated in the arrival ceremony in Miyagi at a Japan Air Self-Defence base in the northern part of the country on March 20.
“It’s a gut-wrenching decision not to be able to let them perform,” Mori said. “The children practiced very hard for the ceremonies so we’re very sorry about that. We’ll try to make it up to them during the Games.”
Runners and staff involved in the relay carrying the torch after its arrival in Japan will have their temperature and health monitored and the number of people attending events could be restricted, the organisers said.
The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26 from Fukushima prefecture, located about 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo. It is to end on July 24 at the new $1.43 billion national stadium in Tokyo.