Flame lighting confirms IOC commitment to "delivering safe Olympic Games in July"
The Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia on Thursday (12 March) ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The traditional ceremony, with the flame lit by the sun's rays, saw Greece's Olympic shooting gold medallist Anna Korakaki became the first woman to start the Olympic Torch Relay.
She then handed over the flame to Japan's 2004 women's marathon champion Noguchi Mizuki.
"The lighting of the Olympic flame makes the beginning of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020", said Tokyo 2020 Acting President Endo Toshiaki at the ceremony.
Olympic flame lit as torchbearer Korakaki starts relay to Tokyo 2020 Games
Olympic flame lit as torchbearer Korakaki starts relay to Tokyo 2020 GamesWATCH: Lighting Ceremony takes place in Ancient Olympia as gold medallist Anna Korakaki of Greece becomes the first female to start an Olympic Torch Relay, before passing the flame to Noguchi Mizuki on the journey to Japan and the start of the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Bach "encouraged" by coronavirus measures
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach used the occasion to reaffirm his commitment to delivering the Games to its original schedule, despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday (11 March).
Bach said, "With the lighting of the Olympic flame in Olympia today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirms its full commitment to the success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. We remain absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts in our commitment to delivering safe Olympic Games in July this year."
The Opening Ceremony for the 2020 Olympic Games is scheduled for 24 July in Tokyo's National Stadium.
Bach "fully committed" to Tokyo 2020
Bach "fully committed" to Tokyo 2020After the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic Flame in Ancient Olympia, IOC President Thomas Bach proclaimed it a "strong signal" of his and Japan's commitment to making Tokyo 2020 "a great success". Bach also admitted qualification for the Olympic Games was "a challenge" but says the IOC is working closely with International Federations, NOCs and athletes to adapt the system "wherever necessary".
Bach commented, "What makes us so committed and where we are encouraged, are the many measures being taken by so many governments and authorities around the world to contain the virus now 19 weeks before the Games, and then also to make good use of this time, these 19 weeks.
"We are fully committed and I’m really encouraging the athletes to go ahead with their preparations and their qualifications with full steam and then we will all welcome them to Tokyo for a great Olympic Games." - Thomas Bach
On the flame lighting itself, he said, "This is a great moment, it is reminding us of our roots more than 3,000 years ago"
IOC to adapt Olympic qualification system "wherever necessary"
Qualification for the Games has been interrupted by efforts to counteract coronavirus with the Americas Boxing Qualification Event scheduled to later this month in Buenos Aires suspended on Wednesday (11 March).
While Bach admits this situation presents difficulties, he is hopeful that solutions can be found.
He said, "Qualification is a challenge now with the Games. We're still 19 weeks ahead of the Games and, on the other hand, there are also many measures being taken by many authorities around the world to contain the virus.
"We're working closely with the International Federations, with the National Olympic Committees and with the athletes to adapt wherever necessary the qualification system, either to extend qualification time or to find other tools to allow the athletes to qualify." - Thomas Bach
"They can rest assured that we're doing everything we can to ensure a fair qualification under these challenging circumstances."
In a statement, the IOC said, "We remain in close contact with the WHO, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee through our joint task force, which was set up in mid-February.
"The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic."