Naraha, Japan, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- The Olympic torch relay for the Tokyo Summer Games began in northeast Japan’s Fukushima prefecture on Thursday with members of the national women’s football team carrying the flame under anti-Covid-19 measures.
After a restricted ceremony with no public attendance to prevent Covid-19 infections, the relay started at J-Village, a sports facility that until recently had served as a logistics base for clean-up efforts after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Azusa Iwashimizu lit the torch from the Olympic flame and began the relay accompanied by other members of Nadeshiko Japan, the team that won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Iwashimizu told reporters after the start of the relay that she was honored to be the first torchbearer.
The torch will be carried by 10,000 runners across Japan’s 47 prefectures over 121 days and arrive at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on July 23 to light the Olympic cauldron at the Games’ opening ceremony.
“For the past year, as the entire world underwent a difficult period, the Olympic flame was kept alive quietly but powerfully,” Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said at the opening ceremony.
“The small flame did not lose hope and just like the cherry blossom buds that are ready to bloom, it was waiting for this day,” added the former Olympian.
The opening ceremony took place on a stage set up in the J-Village and decorated with ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements) from Fukushima and the prefectures of Miyage and Iwate in the northeast of the country.
A small group of some 160 of politicians and sportspersons attended the ceremony due to the pandemic while the organizers have asked citizens to refrain from gathering in large crowds in the streets as the relay passes.
They have also asked people not to cheer or shout and have warned that they could even cancel sections of the relay in the event of excessive crowds and lack of social distancing.
All runners taking part in the relay will be required to wear a mask – except when a safe distance can be guaranteed – and monitor their health and disinfect their hands before the event. EFE-EPA