• Kyodo

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Tokyo Paralympic flames were lit across the host city Friday before being merged into one despite continuing worries over the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the world’s biggest sporting event for athletes with impairments.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike pledged to hold the Games safely, saying, “The Tokyo Games will not be a success, without the success of the Paralympics,” at a ceremony, during which the flames, ignited in different municipalities in the capital, were united in a small cauldron.

Numerous events related to the Paralympics have been organized in an effort to build excitement for the 13-day games, which will begin Tuesday following a one-year postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Paralympic’s agitos symbol, consisting of three crescents respectively colored blue, red and green, was set up at Odaiba Marine Park in the Tokyo Bay area to mark the Games’ opening in four days.

The torch relay has been taken off public roads on most of its routes due to an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, as was the case with the Olympic relay.

The flames for the Paralympics were ignited in municipalities in all of the 47 prefectures, and will be merged into one in Tokyo on Friday night. Some municipalities may send their flames in digital form, through photographs or video, instead of bringing them to the ceremony, the Tokyo Games Organising Committee said.

A woman puts a wooden strip with a message written on it into a fire during a lighting ceremony for the Paralympic torch relay in Tokyo's Koto Ward on Friday. | KYODO
A woman puts a wooden strip with a message written on it into a fire during a lighting ceremony for the Paralympic torch relay in Tokyo’s Koto Ward on Friday. | KYODO

All 62 municipalities in Tokyo lit the flame in creative ways, Koike said. Koto Ward, which has seven Paralympic venues, collected its flame on Friday morning by burning about 1,000 wooden plates with messages written about the Paralympics from residents.

In Britain’s Stoke Mandeville, a small village considered the spiritual birthplace of the Paralympic movement, a Paralympic gold medalist lit a flame in a ceremony on Thursday featuring cheerleading and musical performances and attended by Hajime Hayashi, Japan’s ambassador to the country.

The Paralympic relay was originally set to take place in Tokyo and three prefectures, Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka, all of which will host Paralympic competitions, but most of it was held behind closed doors, with so-called torch kiss ceremonies replacing the traditional festivities.

The Paralympics, involving up to about 4,400 athletes from around the world, will be staged without spectators due to the pandemic. But an exception will be made for some students taking part in a government-backed education program in Tokyo and the three prefectures.

The Tokyo Olympics, which wrapped up on Aug. 8, were also held mostly behind closed doors. COVID-19 case numbers in the host city have been consistently hitting record highs since the start of the Games late last month.

The Paralympics' agitos symbol is set up at Odaiba Marine Park in the Tokyo Bay area Friday. | KYODO
The Paralympics’ agitos symbol is set up at Odaiba Marine Park in the Tokyo Bay area Friday. | KYODO

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