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Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame lit in Greece

The ceremonial lighting comes as questions remain about whether the Games will go on amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ATHENS, Greece — The flame for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was lit in Greece, Thursday. The traditional ceremony was muted by the coronavirus pandemic that may threaten whether the Games go forward in July.

Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of the High Priestess, lit the torch at the Ancient Olympia site, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics. A parabolic mirror was used to focus the heat of the sun and light the torch.

The flame was then transferred to a runner holding one of the torches to be used in the relay which will eventually make its way to Japan.

The ceremony was pared down because of concerns over the spread of the virus. Both Wednesday's dress rehearsal and Thursday's lighting ceremony were closed to the public.

Credit: AP
Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou, playing the role of the High Priestess, lights up the torch during the flame lighting ceremony at the closed Ancient Olympia site, birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

There has been speculation that the Games may need to be canceled or, at the very least, postponed depending on the spread of the virus. Sports leagues around the world, including the NBA and NCAA, have either suspended their seasons or chosen to ban fans from arenas.

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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike acknowledged that the World Health Organization's declaration that the coronavirus is a pandemic could impact the Olympics. But she said Thursday she believes “cancellation is impossible.” 

Japanese organizers and the International Olympic Committee say the games will open as planned on July 24. But the reality is that any decision to cancel or proceed rests ultimately with the Switzerland-based IOC.

The contract with Japanese authorities gives the IOC leverage to terminate the Olympics for many reasons. One clause in the contract says it can terminate if the "safety of participants in the games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.”

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