#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 20°C Friday 24 September 2021
Advertisement

'I feel sorry for the athletes': Olympics opening ceremony to take place in empty stadium

Only 1,000 dignitaries will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

ONE OF THE strangest Olympics in history will get off to an equally unusual start when the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony takes place in front of thousands of empty seats today.

Local spectators are barred from almost all Games venues, and only 1,000 dignitaries will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the traditional extravaganza, usually a time of celebration for the host nation.

This time around, after a year’s pandemic delay, the Japanese public is largely locked out and distrustful of the Games, fearing an influx of infections from the foreign visitors.

The ceremony has been pared back to prevent crowding, with the parade of nations, a centrepiece of the show featuring smiling and waving athletes, dramatically reduced.

Glimpses of rehearsals witnessed by Tokyo residents suggest a high-tech show including a drone display.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will be chief among the VIPs, along with a smattering of world leaders and senior figures including US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Tokyo 2020 has had a difficult build-up and the opening ceremony is no exception, with a series of sackings of people connected with the show.

The ceremony’s director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired on the eve of the show over a 1998 comedy sketch referencing the Holocaust.

It came just three days after a composer for the ceremony stepped down following an outcry over past interviews in which he described abusing disabled schoolmates.

The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, also resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig.

The ceremony’s focal point is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, which will conclude a tortuous torch relay that started 16 months ago and has run into several obstacles.

After the flame was lit at a spectator-free ceremony in Olympia, Greece in March last year, the Greek section of the relay was scrapped when a crowd mobbed Hollywood actor Gerard Butler in Sparta.

The flame had barely landed in Japan when the Olympics were postponed and it was put on display around the nation until the relay’s restart this March.

However, almost half of the relay legs were taken off public roads or otherwise altered over coronavirus concerns, and fans were kept away when it finally arrived in Tokyo this month.

Virus concerns remain high in Japan, with Tokyo under a state of emergency as the Olympics finally start.

Cases in the capital hit 1,832 on Wednesday – the highest since January. Experts estimate the number will jump to 2,600 in early August, according to Kyodo news agency.

“It’s completely different from the last Games (in 1964) when the whole city was filled with festive mood,” said 80-year-old Michiko Fukui, as she strolled around the upscale Ginza district on Thursday.

The city has been adorned with Tokyo 2020 flags and advertising, and futuristic Olympic and Paralympic mascots are plastered on buses and buildings.

But there is little else to give away the fact that some of the world’s top athletes have descended on Tokyo from around the globe.

A state of emergency means restaurants and bars must close by 8:00 pm – when the opening ceremony begins – and they are banned from serving alcohol.

Seira Onuma was one of thousands of Japanese who competed to snag tickets in a lottery before the Games were postponed, but now she’s not even sure she’ll watch on TV.

“I won tickets for the finals of the athletics at the Olympic Stadium,” the 29-year-old housewife told AFP.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

“I was so disappointed by the no-fan decision and now I’m losing interest altogether,” she said in Tokyo’s Koto area, not far from the village where thousands of competitors and officials are staying.

“I feel like I can’t really whole-heartedly welcome the Olympics and I just don’t really feel any joy in it.”

Local students plan to run a mini torch relay today that it’s hoped will “support the Olympics”.

Public opinion polls show Japanese remain largely opposed to holding the Games this year, and most would prefer a further postponement or outright cancellation.

Koto resident Noboru Kashiwagi said the Olympics was the last thing on the minds of most of his neighbours.

“No one cares about the Olympics,” the 79-year-old said.

“Since even people living near the venues are uninterested, I’m wondering if people in other places have any interest,” he added.

“I feel sorry for the athletes. It’s not their fault.”

© AFP 2021

About the author:

AFP

Read next:

COMMENTS (7)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel