Olympic flame flickers amid Tokyo 2020 uncertainty

The Olympic flame was lit in Greece on March 12 and arrived in Japan on Friday. The plan has long been for it to travel across the country, starting in Fukushima on Thursday. But the possibility of postponing the Games has led to a major change to the torch relay.

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee has decided not to hold the torch relay as planned, but will instead use a lantern to carry the Olympic flame across Japan by car. They have also decided that the relay won't begin until it reaches a final conclusion with the IOC on whether or not to postpone the Games.

The decision is also aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, as the relay would draw large crowds along the route. And the organizing committee plans to scale down the Olympic flame ceremony in Fukushima to hold it without spectators.

The torch is now on display in Fukushima after visiting two other prefectures in northeastern Japan that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The Olympic flame for the Tokyo 2020 Games arrived in Japan from Greece on March 20.

Disappointment and acceptance

The relay plan covers more than 800 municipalities around the country, with an estimated 10 thousand runners chosen by sponsors and prefectures. Each runner is due to carry the torch for about 200 meters.

Takayuki Ueno, one of the torch bearers for Fukushima, lost his parents and two children in the 2011 tsunami. He says that he got new white running shoes last weekend and planned to tell many people about the importance of life during his run.

"So far, I plan to go to the meeting place to start as scheduled," he says. "I wanted my lost family to see me running. But it cannot be helped."

Asato Oowada, another Fukushima runner, is also disappointed. "If the Olympics are postponed, I want to ask officials to show the world our progress in recovering from the 2011 disaster when the Games eventually happen," he said.

Officials from Aichi Prefecture's executive committee say they are shocked, as they have done so much preparation for the torch relay.

The relay has long been scheduled to arrive at the National Stadium for the opening ceremony on July 24. But if the Olympics are postponed, thousands are sure to be left disappointed.

Update: The IOC on Tuesday approved the postponement of the Games by about one year in an emergency teleconference call with the executive board. Earlier in the day, Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach agreed to hold the Games by the summer of 2021 at the latest. The torch relay has also been postponed.