Olympic flame passed to Fukushima during low-key ceremony


FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Tokyo 2020 organizers left the Olympic flame in the hands of Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday where it will be on display in a lantern for the next month after the Games were postponed for a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The handover took place at a subdued ceremony at the J-Village National Training Center in Fukushima, which was originally set to be the starting point of the torch relay.

Only Tokyo 2020 COO Yukihiko Nunomura made the trip north from the organizing committee.

“This is a (symbol of) hope for the world to celebrate the best of human beings through Tokyo 2020 after we overcome the serious coronavirus,” said Nunomura to start the ceremony.

He then handed the Olympic flame to Makoto Noji from the Fukushima government.

“I strongly believe that the Olympic flame departure from the J-Village next year will be a strong message that we can overcome whatever difficulty,” said Noji.

“(It is a) symbol of hope – after we overcome this coronavirus disease we are now facing, with the people, not only from Japan, but from all over the world.”

The flame will stay on display in the J-Village until April 30 before being moved to Tokyo. Organizers have not yet decided where in the Japanese capital it will be displayed.

The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government succumbed to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies around the world last week by agreeing to push back the Games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Tokyo Olympics will now run from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

The J-Village was chosen as the starting point of the 121-day torch relay, originally due to start on March 26, because it is a symbol of Japan’s reconstruction following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The facility was used as a base to launch recovery efforts along the devastated coastline and has only recently been resurrected to its former glory as a performance center for Japan’s elite young soccer players.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; additional reporting by Yu Takito; editing by Peter Rutherford