The Olympic opening ceremony kicked off Friday evening in Tokyo, officially marking the start to the delayed summer games that have been plagued by scandals.
The event showcasing Japanese culture is being held in a mostly empty national stadium after the decision to ban spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic. About 950 people were in the stands, including US First Lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and the Japanese emperor.
The start of the games follows several setbacks, including multiple high-profile resignations. A rapidly rising Covid case count in Tokyo has further soured public sentiment.
The ceremony began with moving geometric shapes drawn in chalk against a blackboard. Dancers used a complex web of red ropes to express the emotional conflict, anxiety and sorrow of those training during the pandemic. Mask-wearing former athletes, including 2000 Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi, carried the Japanese flag into the stadium.
Over 200 nations and groups are taking part in the athletes’ parade, which is being accompanied by orchestral versions of video-game tunes. The three-and-a-half hour ceremony was originally 30 minutes shorter, extended to allow social distancing among the athletes, according to local media.
Organisers reported a record number of new daily coronavirus infections linked to the games, including three athletes, bringing the total to 110. One of the infected athletes is residing in the Olympic Village.
It’s not just the pandemic that has been disruptive in the lead-up to the event. Ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi was fired on Thursday after a decades-old video emerged of him joking about the Holocaust. A composer whose music was set to be used also resigned following the emergence of past interviews in which he had talked about tormenting disabled classmates at school.
Various Japan Inc. leaders are also absent, from Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda to Panasonic Corp. Chief Executive Officer Yuki Kusumi. Given the public criticism of holding the games in the middle of a global pandemic, there’s been a wave of companies pulling out of attending the ceremony, usually a key moment for sponsors.
© 2021 Bloomberg