2021 Olympics: Tokyo Games begin with muted ceremony and empty stadium after yearlong delay due to COVID

TOKYO – Delayed and awaited, the virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened on Friday night with cascading fireworks and televised choreography taking place in a nearby stadium. as empty, a colorful yet eerily tender ceremony sets a striking tone befitting a unique pandemic game.

As the opening match went on, without the usual excitement of the crowd, the Games were held amid anger and distrust in much of the host country, but with hope from the organizers. that the excitement of the sport will offset widespread opposition.

“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what we all imagined,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “But let’s cherish this moment because we’re all here together at last.”

“The feeling of being together – this is the light at the end of the pandemic’s dark tunnel,” Bach declared. Then, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka received the Olympic flame from the torch relay through the stadium and lit the Olympic cauldron.

Floods and storms across Japan have threatened for months to drown out the usual packing glamor of the grand opening. However, inside the stadium after Friday’s sunset, a ceremony was precisely calibrated to portray that the Olympics – and their spirit – were on.

At the start of the ceremony, an ethereal blue light enveloped the empty seats as loud music muted the chants of protesters scattered outside calling for the Olympics to be cancelled. A single stage has an octagonal shape that resembles the country’s legendary Mount Fuji. Then, an orchestra of songs from iconic Japanese video games served as the background music for the athletes’ entrances.

Mostly masked athletes wave enthusiastically to thousands of empty seats and arrive in a world longing to see them compete but certainly wondering what to do for it all. Some athletes marched socially distanced, while others rallied in ways that were completely contrary to the organizers’ hopes. The Czech Republic has joined other countries although their delegation has had several positive COVID tests since arrival.

Bach told the athletes: “You have faced great challenges on your Olympic journey. “Today you are making your Olympic dreams come true.”

Organizers held a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the pandemic; As it ticks and the music pauses, the sounds of protests echo in the distance.

The screams of protesters have raised fundamental questions about these Olympics as Japan and large parts of the world reel from the continued punch of the pandemic that is dragging into its second year. two, with cases in Tokyo hitting record highs this week: Could a deep, intrinsic human attachment to the spectacle of sporting competition at the highest level be enough to salvage the legends? This Olympics?

Time and again, previous opening ceremonies have eliminated something of an approach to magic. Scandals – bribery in Salt Lake City, censorship and pollution in Beijing, doping in Sochi – faded into the background as the sport began.

But with people still falling ill and dying every day from the coronavirus, there is particular urgency to questions about whether the Olympic flame can ignite fear or provide a measure of catharsis – and even fear – after a year of suffering and uncertainty in Japan and around the world.

“Today, with the world facing great challenges, some are questioning the power of sport and the value of the Olympic Games,” said Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Organizing Committee. Tokyo 2020, said in a speech. But, she said of the possibility of the Olympics, “This is the power of sport. …This is the essence of it.”

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito announced the opening of the Games, with fireworks exploding over the stadium after he delivered his speech.

Outside, hundreds of curious Tokyoites have lined up a fence to separate them from those entering – but just enough: Some enter to take selfies with onlookers through the fence, and there’s a festive feel to it. full of excitement. Several pedestrians enthusiastically waved to the approaching Olympic buses.

The sports have already begun, and some focus is on the upcoming competition.

For example, can the United States women’s soccer team become the first team to win the Olympics after winning the World Cup? Can Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama win golf gold after becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters? Will Italy’s Simona Quadarella challenge America’s famous Katie Ledecky in the 800 and 1,500 meter freestyle races?

For now, though, it’s hard to miss how unusual these Games promise to be. The lovely National Stadium can look like an isolated military zone, surrounded by giant barricades. Roads around it were blocked off and businesses closed.

Inside, the feeling of being hygienic, tight quarantine carries. Fans, who used to shout for their country and mingle with people from all over the world, were banned, leaving only a contingent of journalists, officials, athletes and attendees. carefully screened.

The Olympics are often met with opposition, but there is also often a pervasive sense of national pride. Japan’s outrage is centered on the belief that it is armed with powerful weapons to host the show – forced to pay billions of dollars and risk the health of a large portion of the unvaccinated, deeply fatigued public. identity – so the IOC can generate billions of dollars in media revenue.

“Sometimes people ask why the Olympics exist, and there are at least two answers. One is that they are an unrivaled global showcase for the human spirit as well as sport, and the other is they are an unparalleled global showcase of the human spirit as it involves aristocrats having luxurious hotel rooms and well-paid travel,” said Bruce Arthur, sports columnist for the company. Toronto Star, recently written.

How do we get here? A quick review of the past year and a half seems to be working in its turning points.

A century-old pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 edition of the Olympics. A series of scandals (sexism and other discriminatory and bribery claims, overspending, lack of attitude, bullying) emerged. Meanwhile, the Japanese people bewilderedly watching an Olympics that many scientists consider a bad idea actually take shape.

Japanese athletes, liberated from difficult commuter rules and able to train more normally, are in some cases able to achieve superiority over their opponents, even when there are no fans. Judo, a sport in which Japan has traditionally been a powerhouse, will kick off on Saturday, giving the host country an early chance to win gold.

For now, the fact that delta variants of the virus are still on the rise puts a strain on the Japanese health system in places, and raises fears of an avalanche. Only over 20% of the population is fully immunized. And there have been almost daily reports of positive cases of the virus in the so-called Olympic bubble intended to separate Olympic participants from the anxious, skeptical Japanese population.

For one night at least, the glamor and hopeful message of the opening ceremony could distract many global audiences from the surrounding anguish and anger.

“After more than half a century, the Olympic Games are back in Tokyo,” Hashimoto said. “We will now do everything in our power to make this Olympics a source of pride for generations to come.”

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https://abc7chicago.com/tokyo-olympics-2021-opening-ceremony-schedule/10905354/ | 2021 Olympics: Tokyo Games begin with muted ceremony and empty stadium after yearlong delay due to COVID

Huynh Nguyen

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