Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 June 2020

More than 50,000 flock to see Olympic flame in Japan - in pictures

Authorities consider suspending viewing event if crowd becomes 'extremely dense'

Tens of thousands of people were in attendance to see the Olympic flame in northeastern Japan over the weekend despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Olympic flame arrived in Japan to a scaled-down ceremony on Friday as doubts grew over whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as scheduled following the chaos caused by the outbreak across the world.

The pandemic has already decimated the global sports calendar, with top sports leagues suspended and major tournaments postponed.

On Saturday, more than 50,000 people queued to watch the flame displayed at Sendai station in Miyagi, chosen as part of the "Recovery Olympics" to showcase the region's revival after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Many supporters wore masks as they took pictures with the cauldron.

"I queued for three hours but watching the Olympic flame was greatly encouraging," a 70-year-old woman told broadcaster NHK.

But organisers, concerned about the size of the gathering, have warned the viewing event could be suspended if crowd becomes "extremely dense", local media reported.

The nationwide torch relay begins on March 26, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima that was used as a base for workers during the 2011 nuclear disaster.

But organisers have been forced to scale back the relay, closing daily ceremonies to the public and urging spectators to "avoid forming crowds" along the route.

As packed crowds gathered, more national Olympic committees joined the calls opposing the International Olympic Committee's plans to proceed with the Games, with Serbia and Croatia the latest national bodies to voice their concerns.

"Japan has invested a lot of resources into the Olympics and they are adamant that the Games should go ahead, but that defies common sense and we cannot support it because human lives come first," Serbian Olympic Committee president Vanja Udovicic said.

His Croatian counterpart, Zlatko Matesa, said it was "impossible" to proceed with the Olympics under the current circumstances.

"No one wants the Games postponed but I think we are close to such a scenario as it seems to be the only option. Sports has come to a halt in all of Europe and no one knows when it will resume," Matesa said.

"Sports is not an issue now as competing has become impossible. I believe it is impossible for the Games to go ahead as scheduled and in my opinion they should and will be postponed for a few months. It won't be a dramatic delay."

USA Track and Field, USA Swimming, the Brazilian Olympic Committee, UK Athletics and the French Swimming Federation have also urged the IOC to postpone the multi-billion dollar event.

Updated: March 23, 2020 08:59 AM

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