After a year-long pandemic postponement and a build-up downfall and contention, the long-awaited Olympics games, Tokyo 2020 starts with its opening ceremony today, Friday in a nearly empty stadium.
The Olympic celebration started with a stripped-back video showing athletes training at home during the pandemic before fireworks blast into the air above the Olympic Stadium.
The Games was declared open with just a few hundred officials and VIPs who were present in the stands of the 68,000-seat venue, including French President Emmanuel Macron, US First Lady Jill Biden, and Japan’s Emperor Naruhito.
It was gathered that the Olympic has encountered resistance in Japan over fear that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could ignite a supper-spreader event despite taking place under strict virus measures.
For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, fans from overseas were banned and trained observers were asked to watch the events at some of the venues.
Athletes, support staff, and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health check.
Based on the restrictions that were made, the opening ceremony was far from the conventional high-spirited celebration.
According to an AFP report, every athlete that entered the stadium wear a mask, and the national committees of athletes parading around the stadium were far insignificant than usual, varying from just a few people to a few dozen.
The ceremony wove together considerations to both Japan’s traditional crafts and its globally prominent video games, with athletes joining the theme music from acclaimed titles.
– ‘Feels like the Olympics’ –
Polls have consistently shown Japanese people are opposed to holding the Games during the pandemic, but hundreds of people still gathered outside the stadium and cheered as the fireworks exploded overhead.
Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to grab a spot.
“Until now it didn’t feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics,” she told AFP as people snapped selfies nearby.
Inside, fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials were in the stands, and in a sign of how divisive the Games remain, several top sponsors including Toyota and Panasonic did not attend the ceremony.
Small groups of protestors demonstrated against the Games outside the stadium as the ceremony began, but their chants were drowned out as the music started.
Tokyo is battling a surge in virus cases and is under emergency measures that means bars and restaurants must shut by 8:00 pm and cannot sell alcohol.
Olympic officials have put a brave face on the unusual circumstances, with IOC chief Thomas Bach insisting canceling the Games was never on the table.
“Over the past 15 months we had to make many decisions on very uncertain grounds,” he said this week. “We had doubts every day. There were sleepless nights.
“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel. The cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes… we did it for the athletes.”
There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been canceled.
The pandemic has not been the only hiccup in preparations though, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.
The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony’s director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video more than two decades ago.
When the full program of sport begins on Saturday, a new generation of Olympic stars are looking to shine after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
US swimmer Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals, and in track and field, 400-meter hurdlers Karsten Warholm of Norway and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin are among those hoping to emerge as household names.
In gymnastics, Simone Biles will attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.
However, other new Olympic games that will be making their debut on display in Tokyo, includes surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, and karate.
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