The Olympic flame arrived in Tokyo on Friday, but with the public staying away at a low-key welcoming ceremony due to fears of coronavirus, the day after a “heartbreaking” announcement that spectators would be banned from most gaming events.
On a rainy morning exactly two weeks before the inauguration of the biggest sporting event since the pandemic began, the flame was brought up on stage in a lantern and handed over to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.
Tokyo 2020 organizers and government officials on Thursday night announced their decision to exclude fans from Olympic events in the capital, which will be in an emergency during all games.
This means that the pandemic postponed games will be the first to largely take place behind closed doors. A handful of competitions will take place outside the capital.
The torch relay was intended to create excitement for the games, but it has been pulled from public roads in the capital to prevent crowds from spreading the virus as infections rise.
Before the flame arrived, five male trumpeters dressed in costumes played a huge tune under a gazebo to protect them from drizzle, in front of only journalists and a handful of officials.
The stands were empty at Komazawa Olympic Park Stadium in the capital’s southeastern suburbs, which was used at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m glad we welcome the torch relay, with these legacies that we proudly display at home and abroad,” Koike said.
But Tokyo’s governor, who was recently hospitalized for exhaustion, coughed three times during his short speech and several times thereafter.
Friday’s event provided a taste of the atmosphere that could await athletes at the opening ceremony, which will be held at the National Stadium in the city center.
The decision to ban fans came after the government said a state of emergency would be introduced in Tokyo throughout the games to quell a recovery in infections and fears of the more contagious Delta variant.
On Thursday night, Koike could not hide his disappointment at not having any fans at the games.
“I feel a heartbreaking sadness over this decision,” she said.
When the 2020 Games were postponed last year when the extent of the pandemic became clear, there was talk that they would be arranged as proof that the world had overcome the virus.
But the triumphant tone has given way to the harsh reality of new stages of infection and more contagious variants, including the Delta strain that has led to virus outbreaks in many countries.
The nationwide torch relay has had many problems since it began in March, with almost half of its legs disturbed in some way.
The relay was forced off public roads in famous tourist cities such as Kyoto and Hiroshima for fear that lots of fans could spread the virus.
And it has also faced some opposition, with a 53-year-old woman arrested on Sunday for spraying liquid from a water pistol at a runner.