Tokyo 2020 flame off display, qualified athletes to keep places

People watch Olympic flame during 'Flame Of Recovery' tour on March 22, 2020 in Miyako, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

The Olympic flame is being removed from display in Japan as the country enters a month-long ‘state of emergency’ in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In other Tokyo 2020 news, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that athletes that already qualified will keep their places for the rescheduled Games next year.

The Olympic flame has been on public display in the Fukushima region since last week. It arrived in Japan from Greece on March 20, and attracted large crowds on its arrival, despite calls from organisers to avoid mass gatherings.

Japan Today reported that a Tokyo 2020 organising committee spokesman declined to comment on where the flame would be stored in order to prevent people congregating near the location.

The state of emergency declared by Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe will run until May 6 involve restrictions on movement, including a requirement for non-essential workers to work from home. The Tokyo 2020 organising committee has asked its employees to work from home as far as possible, and has closed its press room and suspended its phone inquiry service, with questions now only answered via email.

It will initially apply to Tokyo and six other prefectures: Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, which border the capital; Osaka and neighbouring Hyogo in the west of the country; and Fukuoka in the south-west.

UK newspaper The Guardian reported that the restrictions are not as heavy as those underway in parts of Europe and the US, and Japan’s government does not have the power to enforce them with penalties such as fines. But officials are hoping jishiku – the concept of self-restraint – and threats to name-and-shame non-compliant businesses, will make the rules effectual. They are being introduced in response to a rise in infections in urban areas, particularly among young people.

Qualifiers remain

The IOC confirmed yesterday that about 6,500 athletes who qualified for Tokyo 2020 would keep their spots for next year’s rescheduled Games.

A new qualification deadline has been set for June 29 next year. International federations will remain in charge of their qualification procedures.

The IOC urged federations whose qualification process relied on assessing results over a series of events to find a balance “between protecting those athletes who were close to qualifying based on the previous 2020 deadlines and also ensuring the best athletes at the Olympic Games” in 2021.

An age limit of 40 on boxers has been relaxed, and sports can decide if athletes that were too young to qualify for Tokyo 2020 can do so for 2021.

Athletics’ responses

In response to the IOC’s announcement, World Athletics announced it was shutting down its qualification procedures this year up to November 30, and declared a new qualification window of December 1 to June 29, 2021.

Separately, WA furloughed half the staff at its Monaco headquarters. The staff will receive their wages in full, with WA paying 30 per cent and the Monaco government paying 70 per cent. Monaco, like neighbouring France, has imposed tight restrictions on movement in response to the pandemic.

WA president Sebastian Coe said: “We need to reflect current realities and the uncertainty of the global situation we find ourselves in, particularly the business environment where, due to Coivd-19 crises, normal business practices are breaking down around the world.

“The income we receive is not ‘our’ money. We are custodians of granted funds, which may well be disrupted this year, to spend on the development and delivery of athletics across the globe so we are always diligent and responsible with our finances.

“This decision, made possible by the Monaco Government, means we will focus only on business-critical activities for the short term which will help us manage our cashflow effectively and protect jobs in the long term.”

Thai and Malay weightlifters banned

In other Tokyo Olympics qualification news, the International Weightlifting Federation said last weekend that athletes from Thailand and Malaysia would be banned from next year’s Games due to doping infractions at the respective national associations.

The Bangkok Post reported that eight Thai lifters, including two reigning Olympic champions, tested positive for banned substances last year. In January, the board of the Thailand Amateur Weightlifting Federation (Tawa) resigned after allegations of doping among its athletes, including youth athletes, were made in a German television documentary.