Athens, March 19 (IANS) Greece handed the Olympic Flame to the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games on Thursday at an event in Athens scaled down to the basics due to the measures the Greek government has imposed against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The modest handover ceremony took place at the marble Panathinaic Stadium of Athens, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, Xinhua news reports. The ceremony was closed to spectators due to the ban on gatherings introduced to contain the virus.
Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, an Olympic gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, brought the Flame into the Stadium and gave it to fellow 2016 Olympic winner Katerina Stefanidi, a pole vaulter, who lit the cauldron at the Stadium.
Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos then received the Flame from Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou acting as an ancient Greek High Priestess. She was escorted only by olive branch-holding ceremony choreographer Artemis Ignatiou, instead of the group of dozens of dancers in the roles of priestesses and male youth who traditionally perform during the Olympic Flame handover ceremonies.
Capralos passed the Flame on to Naoko Imoto, a 1996 swimming Olympian of Japan who currently works for Unicef in Athens as Chief of Education.
“It is always a moving moment when we hand over the Flame as we bid farewell to the great Olympic symbol,” stated Capralos, also a member of the International Olympic Committee and an Olympian himself in the sport of water polo.
The Greek leg of the torch relay was suspended the day after the lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, on March 12, because of the measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we have been forced to cancel the Olympic Relay in our country, and the Handover Ceremony could not take place as we had planned it. However, under no circumstances the Olympic Flame loses its brightness,” Capralos added, before wishing “good luck to our Japanese friends.”
In a video message the President of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee Yoshiro Mori stressed that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made it clear that “delivering the complete Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 is important to show proof that human beings win the battle against the novel coronavirus.”
The newly appointed President of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, was not present at the ceremony in observance of the restrictions. She did send her own message though through an emailed press release from the President’s Office.
“The values that have inspired the Fair Play of the Ancient Greeks are those that can and should constitute our weapon today against the common enemy. With them we will fight it, and with them we will defeat it,” she said referring to the novel coronavirus.
“Ancient Olympia lights the way toward Tokyo, and all Greeks are wishing good luck to the Japanese organizers of this year’s Olympic Games,” concluded Greece’s President.
Receiving the Flame at the stadium was a small delegation of Japanese officials.
The torch relay will begin in Japan on March 26 and will conclude with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which is scheduled on July 24.