The Olympic flame for the 2020 Tokyo Games was lit in an ancient Olympia on Thursday amid an unprecedented health lockdown as Greece registered its first death from coronavirus.

With spectators banned, an actress dressed as ancient Greek high priestess lit the flame using the rays on the sun reflected off a concave mirror, launching a week-long torch relay in Greece before the flame is handed to Tokyo organisers on March 19.

''Today marks the beginning of the journey of the Olympic flame to Japan,'' said International Olympic Committee [IOC] president Thomas Bach.

''When the flame returns to Tokyo after 56 years, hope will light the way across the entire country,'' he said.

Japan also hosted the summer Olympics - also in Tokyo - in 1964.

Now it seeks to use the 2020 Olympics to show the world it has regained its creative flair and innovative energy, but also as a means to highlight reconstruction following the 2011 earthquake and  and Tsunami in Fukushima.

''Japan will demonstrate its groundbreaking innovation and boundless creative energy with regards to sustainability, technology and human-centred growth,'' Bach said.

''The Olympic games will again be a symbol of hope and confidence for all Japanese people.''
But with coronavirus causing devastation in world sport, doubts are increasingly being raised over whether the Olympics can be held as scheduled from  July 24 to Aug 9.

Organisers have insisted the Games will go ahead as planned and the IOC has said there has not yet been any talk of cancellation or postponement.
The IOC has said it will coordinate closely with the World Health Organization, which has now officially the outbreak as a pandemic.

The torch relay in Greece is scheduled to pass through 37 cities and 15 archaeological sites covering  3,500 kilometres [2,175 miles] and 842 nautical miles [1559 km] and will be carried by 600 runners.

Once in Japan, the relay will start from Fukushima and travel along routes eventually leading to the capital.

The ceremony was held without spectators after dozens of people tested positive for COVID-19 in the broader, western Peloponnese. Up to 12,000 had been expected to make their way to Olympia, where the ancient Games were held.

Only 100 accredited guests from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, compared to  700 originally, were allowed to attend Thursday's ceremony. [AFP]


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