Tokyo Olympics begin with muted ceremony, empty stadium

Published July 24, 2021
Tokyo: Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on Friday. (right) Pakistan’s flag-bearers Mohammad Khalil Akhtar (left) and Mahoor Shahzad lead their delegation at the ceremony.—Reuters / AFP
Tokyo: Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on Friday. (right) Pakistan’s flag-bearers Mohammad Khalil Akhtar (left) and Mahoor Shahzad lead their delegation at the ceremony.—Reuters / AFP

TOKYO: Belated and beleaguered, the virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened on Friday night with cascading fireworks and made-for-TV choreography that unfolded in a near-empty stadium, a colourful but strangely subdued ceremony that set a striking tone to match a unique pandemic Games.

As their opening played out, devoid of the usual crowd energy, the Olympics convened amid simmering anger and disbelief in much of the host country, but with hopes from organisers that the excitement of the sports to follow would offset the widespread opposition.

“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said. “But let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together.”

“This feeling of togetherness, this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the pandemic,” Bach declared.

Later, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka received the Olympic flame from a torch relay through the stadium and lit the Olympic cauldron.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games. “I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch at the ceremony that unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.

A reduced parade of about 5,700 athletes, far lower than the usual numbers, filled into the stadium. Most countries were represented by both male and female flag-bearers in an Olympic first, but not everybody took pandemic measures. Teams from Kyrgyzstan, Tajik­is­tan and the Pakistan flag-bearers paraded maskless in contrast to protocol and the majority of other athletes.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2021

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