Torch relay plan stirs concern from Japanese official

·2 min read
A man wearing a protective face mask walks in front of a wall decoration featuring Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascot Miraitowa amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - The governor of Japan's Shimane prefecture said on Wednesday the Olympic torch relay should be reconsidered because of the coronavirus, the latest setback to the Tokyo 2020 Games amid the pandemic.

The Tokyo Summer Games have already been marred by an unprecedented delay, strong public opposition, and the recent resignation of Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo organising committee, over sexist remarks.

The comments came as Tokyo 2020 organisers held the second meeting of a candidate selection committee to choose a new head for the organisation.

Governor Tatsuya Maruyama of Shimane, a prefecture in western Japan, told a news conference he also opposed the Olympics being held and worried about coronavirus infections.

"Should the present conditions continue, I think holding the Olympics should be avoided," he said

"But given this situation where those who were meant to create an environment where we could safely enjoy the Olympics have not done what they need to do. ... I can't help but say that it would be hard for Shimane to contribute to the hosting of the Olympic torch relay," he added.

He said he wasn't calling for the relay to be cancelled yet, but for conditions to be watched over the next month or so.

The Tokyo Olympics torch relay is scheduled to start in Fukushima, in northeastern Japan, on March 25 and travel through all 47 prefectures over 121 days. Shimane is set to host the event on May 15-16.

NHK national television said the committee working to choose Mori's successor had narrowed it down to one candidate and were making final arrangements, with an eye to announcing a decision as early as this week.

In its first meeting, on Tuesday, the committee agreed on five requirements for a new leader, including a deep understanding of gender equality and diversity and the ability to actualise those values during the Games, organisers said in a statement.

Olympics organisers have said the Games would go ahead despite the ongoing pandemic while opinion polls have persistently shown the majority of Japanese oppose holding the event this year.

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(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Sakura Murakami; writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim, Peter Rutherford and Gerry Doyle)