Tokyo Olympics kick off amid pandemic fears

Just a few hundred officials and dignitaries assist at the opening ceremony in the 68,000-capacity stadium

Photo: EPA A general view during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo, 23 July 2021.

The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally get under way in Tokyo on Friday, after a one-year postponement due to the pandemic. The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics began in a nearly empty stadium with pink fireworks bursting into the air after a countdown, AFP reported. The ceremony in the 68,000-capacity stadium was taking place before just a few hundred officials and dignitaries, including Japan's Emperor Naruhito, US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country will host the next Olympics in 2024.

Organisers have put strict virus measures in place, banning overseas fans for the first time ever, and keeping domestic spectators out of all but a handful of venues.

Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.

A few hundred protestors demonstrated against the Games outside the stadium as the ceremony began.

Tokyo is battling a surge in coronavirus cases, and is under emergency measures that means bars and restaurants must shut by 8:00 pm and cannot sell alcohol.

But Olympic officials have put a brave face on the unusual circumstances, with IOC chief Thomas Bach insisting cancellation was never on the table. "We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel," he said this week. "Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes."

There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5bn in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.

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 from 1998.


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