Tokyo 2020 torch handover to take place in empty Athens stadium


ATHENS (Reuters) – The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games flame handover in Athens next week will be done in an empty stadium amid the coronavirus outbreak, Greece’s Olympic Committee said on Sunday.

Greece on Friday canceled the remainder of the domestic Olympic torch relay through the country to avoid attracting crowds a day after the Tokyo Games flame was lit in ancient Olympia.

“The Hellenic Olympic Committee has decided that the handover ceremony for the “Tokyo 2020” Olympic Games, on Thursday, March 19, will take place at the Panathenaic Stadium behind closed doors,” it said in a statement.

The central Athens stadium, site of the 1896 Games, usually attracts thousands of spectators to the handover ceremony to the next host city of winter and summer Games every two years.

Greece had three fatalities from the disease and 228 confirmed cases by late Saturday.

“Following the orders of the Greek State in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic and for the protection of public health no accreditation cards issued will be valid,” the country’s Olympic Committee said.

Japan is still preparing to host the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday, despite rising global concern about the viability of the summer Games due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Abe and his government as well as the International Olympic Committee have been adamant the July 24-Aug 9 Games will go ahead, even as other global sporting events have been put on hold.

Speculation about a delay from the July start date has grown since U.S. President Donald Trump said organizers should consider a one-year postponement.

The Olympic Torch relay, in which the Olympic flame typically starts a tour around the host nation, is due to start in the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima in less than two weeks. The tour of the torch through Greece has already been cut short.

Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Edmund Blair and Pritha Sarkar