Fans barred from Tokyo Olympics torch relay start

'Simplified' ceremony and reduced launch in countdown to Games

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 24, 2020, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame is displayed outside Fukushima railway station, Fukushima Prefecture. Organisers announced on March 15, 2021 that spectators will be banned from the start of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay, which begins on March 25. / AFP / Philip FONG

Spectators will be barred from the start of the Tokyo Olympics torch relay, organisers revealed as they announced a reduced launch in the countdown to the postponed Games.

Fans were told to stay away from next week's "simplified" starting ceremony and first leg of the nationwide relay, which was put on hold a year ago when the Olympics were delayed over the coronavirus.

"The grand start ceremony and the first section of the Fukushima torch relay... will not be open to the public," organisers said in a statement, adding that the festivities would be broadcast live online.

The announcement comes ahead of a decision on whether fans from overseas will be allowed to enter Japan for the coronavirus-delayed Games, which is expected to be taken before the torch relay begins on March 25.

Reports last week suggested the Japanese government is set to ban fans from abroad over fears of a rise in infections.

The torch relay will begin in Fukushima on the way to the Olympics opening ceremony on July 23.

"In order to allow all possible Covid-19 countermeasures to be taken, the number of participants travelling from Tokyo to the site is being substantially curtailed," Tokyo 2020 said.

"In addition, the programme has been simplified and the number of performers at the ceremony has been reduced."