Tokyo Olympics Open to Sea of ​​Empty Seats

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TOKYO – Athletes walked into the arena wearing masks and waving enthusiastically. Dancers in pastel costumes and hats clapped and waved their arms in the air to increase the excitement. But there were no fans and no cheering spectators—only rows of mostly empty seats stretching out to the vast Olympic Stadium in central Tokyo.

A year later than originally planned, the opening ceremony of the 32nd Summer Olympics took place in a 68,000-seat stadium amid a stubborn pandemic limited to fewer than 1,000 statesmen and other invited guests.

The Japanese public was exhausted by the pandemic and widely opposed the Games. But the ceremony sought to reflect a world battling the virus for more than a year. confetti pigeons fell from the sky and the rendition of “Imagine” on Jumbotrons echoed through the massive stadium with performances by Angélique Kidjo, John Legend and Keith Urban.

Organizers sprinkled traditional Japanese culture throughout the festivities by staging what appears to be a typical summer festival with a quote from a famous Kabuki game alongside lanterns and the music of a taiko drum.

But they’ve taken a more modern take in other ways, choosing Japan’s most famous athlete, Naomi Osaka, to light the Olympic cauldron, and Rui HachimuraThe basketball star, who plays for the Washington Wizards, as one of the flag bearers of Japan. They are just two of several mixed race athletes to represent a largely homogeneous Japan at the Olympics.

Friday’s ceremony marked the official start of the Olympics, although some competitions began earlier this week. 11,000 athletes from 205 countries are expected to participate in 33 sports for the next two weeks.

Almost all events such as the opening ceremony will be held without spectators, and athletes will compete under strict protocols that limit their movements.

Often it is the Olympians who face significant challenges, but this time there have also been organizers who have struggled to get to this moment. What was supposed to be a showcase of Japan’s shimmering productivity, superior service culture, and attractiveness as a tourism destination has instead been rife with infection fears and host committee scandals.

The opening ceremony is usually the host country’s chance to present itself. Beijing’s sarcastic drummers in 2008 or London’s dancing NHS nurses four years later. But Tokyo organizers put on a more somber spectacle.

In a minute of silence, an announcer asked the audience around the world to remember those who succumbed to Covid-19 and those who died at previous Olympics, including Israeli athletes killed in a terrorist attack at the Munich Games in 1972.

While it wasn’t explicitly mentioned until the organizers gave the speech, the ceremony referenced the original framework of Tokyo’s Olympic bid as a symbol of the country’s recovery from the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011. White and ghostly make-up, she danced on a platform in the middle of the field as waves of light swirled around the stadium.

And with illuminated drones forming a giant sphere spinning over the stadium, the organizers were clearly trying to divert the message of the Games away from pandemics and scandals and to more harmonious themes of peace and global harmony.

However, this message may have little resonance with the Japanese public as coronavirus infections in Tokyo have soared to a six-month high and domestic vaccines are slow to roll out.

In quieter moments throughout the ceremony, protesters outside the stadium could be heard honking their horns to “Stop the Olympics”.

“I really can’t think of any meaning or significance as to why we’re doing all this,” said Kaori Hayashi, professor of sociology and media studies at the University of Tokyo. “We started with the recovery of Fukushima but that was completely forgotten. And now we want to show the world that we have beaten Covid-19, but we haven’t overcome it yet.”

While the pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge to the organizers of the Games, it was far from the only problem.

Just one day before the opening festivities, the organizing committee fired the creative director of the ceremony Years ago, after it was revealed that he was making jokes about the Holocaust during a television comedy.

His firing came a few days later. the composer of the ceremony resigned — and organizers retracted a four-minute piece he wrote in response to a raucous social media campaign that criticized him for severely bullying his disabled classmates during his school years.

And these were just the latest scandals in a long string of mishaps.

Two years after the government won the contract abandoned A stylish stadium design by Zaha Hadid, a famous architect, due to the cost of balloons. The organizers had to Trashed their first logo after plagiarism accusations. French prosecutors Japan accuses Olympic Committee president of corruption charges regarding the tender process. International Olympic Committee fears extreme heat in Tokyo moved the marathon to Sapporo, on the northern island of Japan, 500 miles from the Olympic Stadium. And the chairman of the Tokyo organizing committee be forced to use after making sexist comments

While the decision to advance the Games amid a pandemic has focused attention on the billions of dollars at stake for the International Olympic Committee, international attention has also been fierce for Japan at times.

Postponing the Games for a year has exposed social issues like sexism in a country where almost all top jobs are. populated by old menas well as the resistance of the conservative government rights of gay and transgender people.

Still, now that the Games have finally arrived, the naive image of the world’s biggest sporting event has begun to push those issues aside.

The night before the opening ceremony, 37-year-old Aya Kitamura, a traditional Japanese musician, cycled to the Olympic Stadium to determine the best viewing spot from outside the venue.

“Of course, I understand that there are many opinions about the Olympics,” said Kitamura, who said his parents often told stories about watching the Olympics. 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “But as the Games get closer, I think everyone is getting a little more excited every day.”

The near absence of spectators has disappointed some in Europe, where infection rates are higher than in Japan, who say they don’t understand why the Olympics are different from other sporting events with large crowds recently.

“It’s kind of unfair that only a limited number of people watch the opening ceremony,” said Hinako Tamai, a 19-year-old Olympic volunteer who helped direct the media to the stadium on Friday night. But there is not much we can do because of Covid,” he said.

Among the few hundred people sitting in the $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, the emperor of Japan, naruhitoOfficially opening the games; american first lady, Jill Biden; French President Emmanuel Macron, whose capital Paris will host the next Summer Games in 2024; and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.

However, several high-profile prospective participants have announced that they will not be ready, including the following. akio toyodaHe is the CEO of Toyota, a leading Olympic sponsor that has decided against airing Olympic-themed television commercials in Japan. Shinzo Abeformer prime minister Tokyo secures bid for Games, also decided to stay away.

Many overseas statesmen, including British Princess Anne and United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, have decided not to come, citing coronavirus restrictions. South Korean President Moon Jae-in He canceled the planned visit after being insulted by a Japanese diplomat.

Even if the Olympics avoid being a superspread event, it will be hard to escape the shadow of the pandemic as the Delta variant spreads. New daily cases in Olympic Village raising anxiety.

“Whatever it is, I really feel like the pandemic is leaving the impression that money is prioritizing public health,” said Jessamyn R. Abel, associate professor of Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University.

And the fanfare of the Games can only go so far with a cautious public. Kentaro Tanaka, 28, a consultant in Tokyo who walked his dog near the Olympic Stadium the night before the opening, said he loves football and plans to watch the matches, but officials questioned his priorities.

“Isn’t there other things the government needs to work on?” “Before I wondered when he might get a vaccination appointment,” Mr. Tanaka said aloud.

Hikari Hida contributed to the reporting.

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