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Thursday’s Olympic flame handover ceremony in Greece will take place without an audience, part of ongoing efforts to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Officials from the Greek Olympic Committee made the announcement on Monday, according to the Associated Press — stressing that tickets for the ceremony would not be valid to those who had secured them.
The event, part of the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Games, will still take place at the Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.
Last week, the committee pulled the plug on the remainder of the Olympic tour rally after crowds had assembled in Sparta to watch actor Gerard Butler carry the torch.
There have been 352 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Greece as of Tuesday morning, March 17, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) reported, and four deaths.
Like the rest of the world, Greek health authorities have encouraged social distancing to stop the virus’ spread, closing down restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, beaches, and more.
The Greek Olympic committee’s headquarters will also remain closed until further notice, the AP reported.
As of now, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still going on as scheduled.
“We made a decision and the decision is the Games go ahead,” Mark Adams, a spokesperson for the IOC and organizing committee, said at a press briefing earlier this month.
“The Games are going ahead on the 24th of July and we completely expect to deliver them on that date,” he said. “All the advice we’ve been given is that that can go ahead, from the WHO and other organizations.”
While there is a lot of “worry” and “speculation” surrounding the coronavirus, Adams said, “We like to stick to the facts,” and reiterated that the World Health Organization said, “that these games can go ahead.”
“And indeed, they will go ahead,” he added.
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Still, a member of the organizing committee’s executive board has said that the games could likely be postponed one to two years if needed.
“I don’t think the Games could be canceled; it’d be a delay. The International Olympic Committee would be in trouble if there’s a cancellation. American TV rights alone provide them with a huge amount,” Haruyuki Takahashi, one of the executive board’s 25 members, told The Wall Street Journal.
“We’ll have to start talking about this seriously from April,” Takahashi added.
Takahashi said that a postponement would still have serious financial implications, as well as cause challenges with the international sporting schedule, keeping in mind the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Additionally, athletes would have to go through qualifications all over again, which means some could lose their right to compete.
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