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Fans, but no cheering, in Olympic torch relay

Spectators will be allowed to line the route when the Olympic flame begins its delayed relay across Japan next month, organizers said, but cheering will be strictly banned.

The torch relay was scrapped just days before it was due to kick off last year when Japanese and Olympic officials took the unprecedented decision to postpone Tokyo 2020 over the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite persistent concerns about the safety of holding the Games this summer, organizers say the massive event can go ahead and the torch relay will kick off as planned on March 25.

It will start from a symbolic site in Fukushima, highlighting the role of Tokyo 2020 as what Japan has dubbed the “Reconstruction Olympics” – after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

But the relay will be a much more sober affair than usual.

Spectators will be allowed to watch the flame pass, but will be required to wear masks, avoid crowding, and only attend segments of the relay near their home.

“They must support with applause or by using distributed goods rather than by shouting or cheering,” guidelines warn, adding social distance must be maintained.

“Individual relay segments will be suspended if there is a risk of overcrowding,” the guidelines add.

Attendance at celebration venues along portions of the route will be by reservation only to limit numbers, and information on which torchbearers will run which sections of the route will be released only at the last minute to avoid crowds gathering to watch celebrity runners.

Torchbearers will be able to run without masks – news likely to be welcomed by those running in the later stages of the relay when Japan’s fierce summer heat has kicked in.

Both runners and staff involved in the relay will have to keep detailed health records in the two weeks before their participation, and avoid risky activities – including eating out or going to crowded places.

Parts of Japan are currently under a virus state of emergency that is due to lift by March 7, with some areas possibly exiting the measure earlier.

But the guidelines warn that segments of the relay could be suspended if the measure is reimposed in areas where the torch relay will take place.

The Games are scheduled to open on July 23, and organizers have outlined virus guidelines they say will allow the event to be held safely.

Final decisions on some key elements remain, with IOC chief Thomas Bach saying yesterday a ruling on whether to allow foreign spectators could come in April or May.*AFP

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