Troubled Tokyo Olympics kick off amid pandemic fears
The most troubled Olympics in modern history Tokyo Olympics kick off on Friday, struggling to emerge from the clutches of Covid-19 after a one-year postponement and following a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.
The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics began in a nearly empty stadium with pink fireworks bursting into the air after a countdown.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, both masked, cheered on the athletes after bowing to each other before sitting down socially distanced.
“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us imagined. But finally we are all here together,” said Bach in the opening speech.
“You struggled. You persevered. You never gave up. Today you are making your Olympic dreams come true,” he said.
Naruhito declared the Games open, with fireworks bursting over the stadium after he spoke.
Unlike his grandfather who opened the 1964 Games with a Japanese word that means “congratulations”, Naruhito opted for a more neutral word in Japanese that is closer to “commemorate”.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka received the Olympic flame from a torch relay through the stadium and lit the Olympic cauldron.
After being passed from baseball legends to children, the torch was handed to Osaka, who walked to the base of the stage, which split open to reveal a set of stairs as the cauldron unfolded like a flower.
She then climbed the stairs and lit the cauldron as fireworks briefly illuminated the sky.
Major absences, ‘Stop the Olympics’ protesters
The ceremony was marked by major absences, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wooed the Games to Tokyo. Top sponsors also stayed away, highlighting strong opposition to the event in Covid-fatigued Japan.
Hundreds of people protested around the venue yelling “Stop the Olympics”.
A vastly smaller number of athletes, about 20 per nation, marched in the teams’ parade, with many flying in just before their competitions and due to leave shortly after to avoid infections.
Most of the national teams walked silently, some socially distanced, others clustering together in ways utterly contrary to organisers’ hopes, waving enthusiastically to thousands of empty seats.
The opening video featured at the stadium recapped Japan’s path to the Games and the challenges the world has faced since the selection of the Japanese capital as host in 2013.
It showed how the Covid-19 epidemic struck in 2020, with lockdowns forcing the unprecedented postponement only four months before the Games were supposed to open, setting off a roller-coaster period of uncertainty and preparations in isolation for the athletes.
A moment of silence was held “for all those family and friends we have lost,” especially to the coronavirus, and mention was made of the Israeli athletes slain at the 1972 Munich Games.