Tokyo Olympics Holds Subdued Opening Ceremony Inside Nearly Empty Stadium

Tokyo Olympics Holds Subdued Opening Ceremony Inside Nearly Empty Stadium
The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday night, staged before fewer than 1,000 invited guests. (Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

The opening ceremony of the 32nd Summer Olympics unfolded in subdued fashion on Friday night inside a nearly empty Tokyo stadium, inaugurating a Games delayed by a year and diminished in atmosphere by a tenacious pandemic.

With attendance limited to fewer than 1,000 dignitaries, journalists and other invited guests in an Olympic Stadium built to seat 68,000, the ceremony’s centerpiece — the athletes’ procession — was staged entirely for television.

Masked athletes, many in reduced contingents to preserve social distancing, waved at nonexistent fans as they marched in. Dancers in pastel costumes and hats provided the only live encouragement during what is normally an exuberant parade before a wildly cheering audience.

Just as notable as the missing supporters were the prominent political and business leaders who decided not to attend, worried about being seen as endorsing an event that has lost much of its meaning among a Japanese public exhausted by the pandemic and widely opposed to the Games.

Although some competitions started earlier this week, the ceremony on Friday represented the official start of the Olympics, with more than 11,000 athletes from 205 countries expected to participate in 33 sports over the next two weeks.

Nearly all of the events, like the opening ceremony, will be held without spectators, and the athletes will compete under strict protocols that limit their movement.

Usually it is the Olympians who face considerable odds, but this time it was also the organizers who waged an uphill battle to get to this moment. What was meant to be a showcase of Japan’s gleaming efficiency, superior service culture and appeal as a tourist destination has instead been swamped by infection fears and host committee scandals.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Motoko Rich

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