Tokyo’s Olympic Torch Relay Kicks Off Despite Widespread Skepticism Over Summer Games

Azusa Iwashimizu (right) and other members of Japan women’s national football team run as torchbearers in the first leg of the torch relay for Tokyo Olympics on Thursday in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Du Xiaoyi/AP

Athletes holding the Olympic torch set off on a relay run Thursday morning in Japan’s northeast, showing the organizers’ determination to proceed with the Summer Games, despite widespread public skepticism.

The relay is set to crisscross across Japan and arrive at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.

The runners will deliver not only the torch, but also Tokyo’s political message that Japan has recovered from a 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, and that mankind has vanquished the COVID-19 pandemic.

Critics say both of these claims are premature.

Dressed in white track suits, members of Japan’s 2011 women’s World Cup-winning soccer team set out at a jog from a soccer training complex in Fukushima, the area hit by the 2011 triple disaster.

They carried a torch made of aluminum, recycled from prefab housing built for the calamity’s survivors.

Each of the relay’s 10,000 runners will carry the torch 200 meters — about 220 yards — on a course traversing all of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Some runners withdrew ahead of the event to protest against former Games organizing chief Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after making sexist remarks.

“The flame will embark on a 121-day journey and will carry the hopes of the Japanese people and wishes for peace from people around the world,” Mori’s replacement and former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto said, addressing a ceremony.

Spectators of the relay are urged to wear masks and clap, but not cheer. The run may be diverted or halted if the event becomes too crowded.

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SOURCE: NPR, Anthony Kuhn