Plane leaves Japan for Olympic flame with no delegates onboard

Greek Olympic officials held a pared-down flame-lighting ceremony for Tokyo due to concerns over the coronavirus. (AP pic)

TOKYO: A plane sporting Tokyo 2020 livery departed Haneda International Airport on Wednesday bound for Athens to collect the Olympic flame, but there was no delegation from organisers onboard due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 said it chose not to send the high-level delegation, which was originally set to include organising committee president Yoshiro Mori and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, to Greece due to the coronavirus.

The flu-like virus has killed more than 7,500 people and brought sport to a standstill around the world.

Japan’s ambassador to Greece will receive the flame at a handover ceremony, organisers said. Lower-level Tokyo 2020 officials who travelled to Greece last week will accompany the flame back to Japan.

Some 20 airline and airport staff waved the plane off with very little fanfare at the airport, which was almost empty as travel restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus have led to widespread flight cancellations.

The Olympic flame will arrive on Japanese soil on Friday at Matushima airbase and be greeted by another low-key ceremony.

Despite sporting events being cancelled across the world in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Olympics organisers maintain the Games will start as planned on July 24.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday they do not plan any “drastic” decisions about the Games, saying they remain fully committed to the event being staged in four months’ time despite the global spread of the coronavirus.

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