Belated and the virus-delayed Tokyo Olympics finally opened Friday night with cascading fireworks and made-for-TV choreography that unfolded in a near-empty stadium, a colorful but strangely subdued ceremony. Only 950 VIPs were present to witness the best performances of dance and graphics.
The Games were formally inaugurated by Emperor Naruhito of Japan and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka received the Olympic flame from a torch relay through the stadium and lit the Olympic cauldron.
“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “But let us cherish this moment because finally, we are all here together”, Bach declared.
Early in the ceremony, an ethereal blue light bathed the empty seats as loud music muted the shouts of scattered protesters outside calling for the Games to be canceled. A single-stage held an octagon shape meant to resemble the country’s fabled Mount Fuji. Later, an orchestral medley of songs from iconic Japanese video games served as the soundtrack for athletes’ entrances.
Mostly masked athletes waved enthusiastically to thousands of empty seats and to a world, hungry to watch them compete. Some athletes marched socially distanced, while others clustered in ways utterly contrary to organizers’ hopes.
Organizers held a moment of silence for those who had died in the pandemic; as it ticked off and the music paused, the sounds of the protests echoed in the distance.
But with people still falling ill and dying each day from the coronavirus, there’s a particular urgency to the questions about whether the Olympic flame can burn away the fear or provide a measure of catharsis. For a night, at least, the glamor and message of hope of the opening ceremony may distract many global viewers from the surrounding anguish and anger.