The Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo will take place on March 11 of that year, the ninth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated a large part of northeastern Japan, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Saturday.
"I think this is a wonderful idea," Bach said in an interview with Kyodo News in Jakarta. "The IOC has already accepted this idea, because from the very beginning the IOC has made a commitment that wherever possible we want to contribute to the reconstruction of the area."
The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee had proposed the date, but Bach's statement was the first public announcement of the IOC's support to hold the ceremony on the disaster's anniversary.
The Olympic flame has been lit in Olympia, western Greece, since Nazi Germany introduced the idea of a torch relay for the 1936 Berlin Summer Games.
Following the relay in Greece, the flame will be transported to Japan, where it will be displayed in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, the three most affected by the 2011 catastrophe, which triggered a nuclear crisis and left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.
The Japan leg of the relay will begin in Fukushima on March 26 and it will travel across the country for a period of 121 days.
On the eve of attending the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, the largest multisport event in the world behind the Olympics, Bach said he plans to visit northeastern Japan in November to "show our solidarity with the people and to encourage the people in the region."
Referring to Japan's record-high temperatures this summer, Bach said he is confident that the IOC working together with the Tokyo organizing committee will be able to come up with the "right mixture of measures" to protect athletes and spectators during the Tokyo Olympics.
He said introducing daylight saving time in Japan during the summer may be an effective way to address potential health risks but at the same time stressed it will be important to craft a "good package" and advised not to just focus too much on one measure.
He also said the IOC, along with North and South Korea, has been exploring the possibility of "some joint actions during the Olympic Games in Tokyo" and to achieve this goal adequate preparations with other national Olympic committees should begin at an early date.
"We have not only opened the door for political talks but also we have also kicked off developments in sports," he said. "We are ready to continue to support this rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula."
North and South Korea formed a joint team in women's ice hockey in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February. It was the first time that inter-Korean athletes to have competed together in Olympics history.
Then the two divided Koreas fielded unified teams in women's basketball, rowing and canoeing at the Asian Games, which opened on Aug. 18.
Their dragon boat racing team celebrated the first-ever gold medal by a combined team of the two countries at an international multisport event on Aug. 26, together with the popular Korean folk song "Arirang" being played at a ceremony as its national anthem.
On the Japanese city of Sapporo's interest in hosting the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030, Bach expressed his appreciation, saying that it is in line with the IOC's policy of taking the advantage of existing facilities and bringing back the games to a "traditional winter sports destination."
While stressing it is "too early" to talk about which city may host those Winter Olympics, he said Sapporo has a good chance to succeed in its bid for the 2030 Games even if it does not get selected for the event four years before.
"I think this is fair to say the candidates for '26 who are following up on the whole procedures will of course have a certain advantage for 2030," he said.
The 64-year-old IOC president said, for obvious reasons, they will have "all the knowledge" as well as "more expertise and more time" to work out their projects according to their needs and cooperation with the IOC.
"I think they would be in the kind of pole position" as they would also be able to gain "confidence" of the IOC in advance, he said.
While he spoke in favor of those issues, when it came to the likelihood of esports, or competitive video gaming, becoming one of the Olympic events in the near future, he was not necessarily so.
He said substantive discussions are needed, for example, to determine whether esports should be regarded as sports in the first place or if it would not be contradictory to the Olympic values.
"This will be for my successor," he said. "There are at this moment too many open questions...it will take time."