Olympic Torch Ceremony Spells Trouble Amid Coronavirus Fears
The Olympic torch lighting ceremony has been held in Greece. This ceremony has traditionally been the count-down to the modern games and it reaffirms the connection between the ancient and modern Olympics. However, this ceremony, unlike previous events was not a mass celebration but was only witnessed by a small crowd because of concerns about the COVID-19 or coronavirus.
The flame lighting ceremony took place in historic Olympia in the south of Greece. This ceremony involves lighting a flame “which stays lit for the entirety of the Olympic Games period, symbolizes purity and represents the values of the Olympics between nations,” according to the Greek Reporter .
The ceremony involved up to 30 female performers acting out a series of ritual in the ancient temple of Hera who was the queen of the gods. The performers are acting as priestesses or “Caryatids Kores,” according to the Greek Reporter . During their rites, they beseeched the ancient solar deity Apollo to start a flame. A parabolic mirror, directed at the sun, was used to ignite the Olympic torch.
The Greek Olympic gold medalist Anna Korakaki made history when she became “the first woman to be the first torchbearer of an Olympic torch relay,” according to NBC. She passed the torch to Mizuki Noguchi, a Japanese Olympic champion from the 2004 Olympic Games that were held in Athens.
After an eight-day stay in Greece, the torch will be flown to Japan, where it will be taken throughout the country by a relay of runners and then it will be used to light the flame that symbolizes the start of the Olympic Games.
The Olympic torch has been lit in front of a much-reduced crowd in Olympia, Greece. But what does this mean for the Tokyo 2020 games themselves? ( lazyllama / Adobe stock)
The ceremony was on a much smaller scale than in previous years, because of concerns over the coronavirus. Only 100 guests accredited by the International Olympic Committee attended the event in Olympia.
The Greek Reporter quotes an IOC press statement, that “given the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing, the health and safety of the thousands of torchbearers, spectators and staff will be the first priority along the route of the Olympic torch relay both in Greece and Japan.” Such is the anxiety caused by the novel virus that there are fears that the games may not go ahead or take place behind closed doors.
Young woman wearing protection mask against Novel coronavirus. ( Jo Panuwat D / Adobe stock)
Flame Lighting Rituals
The flame lighting ritual first took place at Olympia in 1936. The first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1898 did not have an Olympic torch and the first one was only lit in Amsterdam in 1928. At this and in the subsequent Olympics, the flame lighting ceremony took place in the stadium hosting the games. Olympic.org reports that “in the lead-up to Berlin 1936, however, it was decided to take the ceremony back to its roots in Olympia.”
This was the idea of Carl Diem, the chief organizer of the Berlin summer games in 1936. He also thought of the idea of the torch relay, inspired by ancient Greek torch races. Ever since 1936, the flame has been lit and a torch relay has been held in Greece and the host country, before every summer and winter games. Indeed, these events are now enshrined in the Olympic charter.
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The ancient Olympic Games were first held to honor the king of the gods, Zeus. They involved honoring the god with athletic contests. This later became a Pan-Hellenic athletics competition and a religious festival and was held over 1000 years until the coming of Christianity. The games were marked by a general truce throughout the Greek world.
The Olympics are not only an athletic contest but are a symbol of hope and they encapsulate the values that promote peace and inclusion. At the flame lighting ceremony, the IOC President Thomas Back stated that “at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 we will stand together, united in all our diversity. We will be united by our commitment to the Olympic values,” according to Olympic.org. The games are scheduled to take place from the 24 th of July to the 9 th of August.
Top image: Depiction of the Olympic torch. Source: vectorfusionart / Adobe stock
By Ed Whelan