Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tokyo Olympics begin with silent ceremony and empty stadium

TOKYO (AP) — The delayed and beleaguered, virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened on Friday night with fireworks and made-for-TV choreography that unfolded in an empty stadium, a colorful but strangely subdued ceremony that saw one The striking tone set a unique Pandemic games to match.

As their inauguration played out, devoid of the usual crowd energy, the Olympics called off amid anger and distrust from much of the host nation, but with the hope from the organizers that the excitement of the Games would drive widespread protests.

“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 after all we are all here together.”

Bach declared, “This sense of unity – this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the epidemic.” Later, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka received the Olympic flame from a torch relay through the stadium and lit the Olympic cauldron.

Panic across Japan has threatened for months to take out the usual packaged glitz of the opening. Inside the stadium after Friday evening, however, a precisely calibrated ceremony sought to depict that the game – and their spirit – was underway.

At the start of the ceremony, an ethereal blue light bathed the empty seats as loud music calmed the shouts of protesters scattered outside calling for the Games to be cancelled. A single step has an octagonal shape that resembles the country’s famous Mount Fuji. Later, an orchestral medley of songs from iconic Japanese video games served as the soundtrack for the athletes’ entrance.

Most of the masked athletes waved excitedly at the thousands of empty seats and were hungry to see them compete, but were certainly wondering what to make of it. Some athletes marched socially, while others marched in the exact opposite of what the organizers expected. The Czech Republic entered, along with other countries, even though there have been several positive COVID tests since the arrival of its delegation.

“You faced great challenges in your Olympic journey,” Bach told the athletes. “Today you are making your Olympic dream come true.”

Organizers held a moment of silence for those who died in the pandemic; As it stopped and the music stopped, the sound of protest echoed from afar.

The protesters’ slogans voice a fundamental question about these games as Japan and the world at large, reel from the relentless gut punch of a pandemic that is spreading well into its second year, cases in Tokyo this week. Reaching record highs: will a deep, intrinsic human attachment to the spectacle of sporting competition at the highest possible level be enough to salvage these Olympics?

Time and again, past opening ceremonies have produced something that comes close to magic. The scandals – bribery in Salt Lake City, censorship and pollution in Beijing, doping in Sochi – fade into the background when the games begin.

But with people still falling ill and dying every day from the coronavirus, there is a particular urgency to the question whether the Olympic flame can dispel fears or provide a remedy – and even Amazement – even after a year of agony and uncertainty. Japan and around the world.

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

Japanese Emperor Naruhito announced the opening of the Games, followed by fireworks at the stadium.

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Outside, hundreds of curious Tokyo residents put up a barricade that separated them from those entering—but just barely: some of them took selfies with onlookers across the barricades, and there was an upbeat carnival spirit. Some pedestrians enthusiastically shook hands to approach the Olympic buses.

The games have started, and some of the focus is on the competition to come.

For example, could the US women’s soccer team become the first team to win the Olympics after a World Cup victory, even after an early, shocking defeat to Sweden? Can Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama win a gold medal in golf after becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters? Will Italy’s Simona Quadrella challenge American standout Katie Ledecky in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle swim races?

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For now, though, it’s hard to miss just how unusual these games promise to be. The lovely National Stadium may look like an isolated militarized arena surrounded by huge barricades. The roads around it have been sealed and businesses have been closed.

Inside, the spirit of cleanliness, lock-down quarantine runs. Fans, who are usually shouting out for their countries and mingling with people around the world, have been banned, leaving only a carefully screened contingent of journalists, officials, athletes and participants Is.

The Olympics are often met with opposition, but there is also usually a widespread sense of national pride. Japan’s outrage centered on the belief that it was strong-armed in hosting – forced to pay billions and risking the health of a largely uneducated, deeply weary public – hence the IOC mediating its billions in revenue. can collect.

“Sometimes people ask why the Olympics exist, and there are at least two answers. One is that they are a unique global display of the human spirit as it relates to sport, and the other is that they are a manifestation of the human spirit. are a unique global exposure as it pertains to the elite receiving luxurious hotel rooms and generous per day,” Bruce Arthur, a sports columnist for the Toronto Star, wrote recently.

How do we get here? A quick review of the past year and a half seems operatic in its twists and turns.

The once-in-a-century pandemic forces the 2020 edition of the Games to be postponed. A slew of scandals (sexism and other discrimination and bribery claims, overspending, disqualification, bullying) emerge. People in Japan, meanwhile, considered the Olympics a bad idea by many scientists, as the Olympics actually took shape.

Japanese athletes, free from tough travel rules and able to train more normally, can get a good boost over their competitors in some cases, even without fans. Judo, a sport in which Japan has traditionally been a powerhouse, will begin on Saturday, giving the host nation an early gold.

The reality, for now, is that the delta version of the virus is still on the rise, straining the Japanese medical system in place, and raising fears of an avalanche of cases. Only a little over 20% of people are fully vaccinated. And there have been daily reports of positive virus cases within the so-called Olympic bubble, meant to separate Olympic participants from the worried, skeptical Japanese population.

For at least one night, the glamor of the opening ceremonies and its message of hope may distract many global audiences from the anguish and anger surrounding it.

“After more than half a century, the Olympic Games have returned to Tokyo,” Hashimoto said. “Now we will do everything in our power to make this sport a source of pride for generations to come.”

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Foster Klug, news director for Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand at the Associated Press, has been covering Asia since 2005. More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https:///twitter.com/AP_Sports

Tokyo Olympics begin with silent ceremony and empty stadium
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