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Tokyo Olympics officially kicks off amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tokyo was picked as the host of the 2020 Olympics at a general meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013. (AFP)
Tokyo was picked as the host of the 2020 Olympics at a general meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013. (AFP)
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24 Jul 2021 11:07:51 GMT9
24 Jul 2021 11:07:51 GMT9

TOKYO: The Tokyo Olympic Games officially kicked off Friday night as Japanese Emperor Naruhito proclaimed the start of the event in the opening ceremony held at the new Japan National Stadium.

The opening ceremony for the 32nd Summer Games and the second Olympics in Tokyo began at 8 p.m. (11 a.m. GMT) and was held with the participation by athletes and related officials but with no spectators in the stands of the stadium in an unprecedented move as a measure against the novel coronavirus.

Around 11:15 p.m., Emperor Naruhito, who serves as honorary patron of the Tokyo Olympics, said, “I declare open the Games of Tokyo celebrating the 32nd Olympiad of the modern era.” He became the first Emperor to proclaim the Summer Olympics opening since 1964, when Emperor Hirohito, grandfather of the current Emperor and posthumously known as Emperor Showa, declared the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. At the national stadium, Emperor Naruhito sat between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

The ongoing Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for 2020, was postponed for the first time in Olympic history, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis continues in Japan and elsewhere in the world. On Friday, Tokyo confirmed 1,359 new cases of novel coronavirus infection.

The Japanese capital is now under a COVID-19 state of emergency, which took effect on July 12 and is slated to last until Aug. 22, meaning that all events in the Tokyo Olympics, set to run through Aug. 8, will take place during the emergency period.

A total of about 11,000 athletes from 205 countries and regions, excluding North Korea, and a team of refugees will compete in a record 339 events in 33 sports in the Tokyo Games. Baseball and softball returned as Olympic sports for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games, while karate, sports climbing, skateboarding and surfing were adopted for the first time ever.

The Japanese delegation comprises 583 athletes and 477 staff officials, for a total of 1,060 members, the largest number for the nation in any Olympic Games. The host country aims to win 30 gold medals.

Rui Hachimura, who plays for the Washington Wizards in the U.S. National Basketball Association, and wrestler Yui Susaki served as flag bearers for the Japanese delegation.

In a message to the media, Suga pledged to take thorough coronavirus countermeasures during the Olympic Games and said, “I want to show to the world that people can share dreams and hopes by recognizing again the bonds with others from across the globe.”

In a separate message, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike stressed her determination to make the Olympics a torch of hope for people all over the world and hold the Games safely and securely so that participating athletes can show their best performances.

At the ceremony, Bach said in a speech, “We can only be all together here because of you, our gracious hosts, the Japanese people, to whom we would like to express all our appreciation and respect.”

Likening work to reconstruct areas hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and efforts to contain the coronavirus crisis to “a difficult journey” for Japan, the IOC chief said, “We thank all the many unsung heroes, the doctors, nurses and all the Japanese people” making contributions to bringing the pandemic under control.

“The feeling of togetherness” created by the Olympic Games is “the light at the end of the dark tunnel of this pandemic,” Bach said, adding, “The Olympic flame makes this light shine brighter.”

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, expressed gratitude to all people working to help Japan overcome the pandemic while noting, “We can let the world see Japan recovering from the March 2011 disaster 10 years after the catastrophe.”

She said: “I have been encouraged by athletes who continue making efforts without stopping despite difficulties. Now is the time to show the power of athletes and sports.”

“I’m resolved to support the Olympics, which returned to Tokyo after a half century, to the end so that the event will be proudly passed down to future generations,” Hashimoto said.

The opening ceremony was also attended by foreign dignitaries such as Jill Biden, wife of U.S. President Joe Biden, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Shortly before the opening ceremony, the U.S. first lady tweeted, “Dear Team USA, your entire nation is cheering you on and we are grateful for what you’ve given us: the chance to come together in common awe and appreciation for your accomplishments and the shared joy of rooting for our country on the edge of our seats.”

The Olympic flame, which departed from Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on March 25, has toured all 47 prefectures of the country.

Using the flame, tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony.

Olympic torch relay events on public roads were canceled in many areas due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A number of issues have hit the Tokyo Games. The planning team for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, led by acclaimed “kyogen” traditional Japanese farcical drama actor Mansai Nomura, was disbanded in December last year. His successor, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned over a gaffe in March this year.

On Monday, musician Keigo Oyamada stepped down as a composer for the Olympics opening ceremony over his past bullying behavior. On Thursday, the Olympics organizing committee dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi as show director for the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies over his anti-Semitic remarks in the past.

Tokyo was picked as the host of the 2020 Olympics at a general meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013.

In March 2020, a decision was made to put off the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics by one year as the novel coronavirus spread globally.

Other problems that saddled the Tokyo Games included scandals involving the designs of the new national stadium and the Games’ emblems, and soaring costs for holding the events.

The opening ceremony came amid the unabated coronavirus crisis although the Tokyo Games organizers’ focus has shifted to overcoming the pandemic from the promotion of the reconstruction of Fukushima and other northeastern Japan areas hit hard by the March 2011 disaster.

JIJI Press

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