Bizarre scenes are unfolding in Greece’s ancient Olympia where the flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 games is currently underway.
The elaborate ceremony that is the usual backdrop to the traditional torch lighting event has been scaled back to the point that only 100 accredited guests are attending it, thanks to coronavirus.
Delegates, including the country’s outgoing president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, have been listening to speeches sitting some distance apart from one another. Addressing the crowd Thomas Bach, the president of the international Olympic Committee felt fit to mention the novel virus in a speech otherwise eulogising the Olympics’ universalism. A dress rehearsal on Wednesday was similarly closed to the public to comply with Greek government restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The site of the birth of the Olympic games, the stadium at ancient Olympia can seat as many as 3,000 people, the number who attend the ceremony in more normal times.
Lit by a high priestess in the 7thcentury BC Temple of Hera, on an otherwise radiant day replete with birdsong, the flame will begin its week-long rally through Greece before being handed over to Japan’s Olympic committee in Athens next week to start its journey to Tokyo – even if question marks remain over whether the 2020 games will take place at all.