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Tokyo Olympics Open With Muted Ceremony & Empty Stadium
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TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: The Olympic Rings are seen outside the stadium as fireworks go off during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Tokyo Olympics Open With Muted Ceremony & Empty Stadium

Belated and beleaguered, the virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics finally opened Friday night with cascading fireworks and made-for-TV choreography in a near-empty stadium. It was a colorful but subdued ceremony that set a striking tone to match a unique Olympics during a global pandemic.

Following the opening, devoid of crowd energy, the Olympics convened amid outrage and criticism within Japan, but with hopes from organizers that the excitement of the sports to follow would offset the widespread opposition.

“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.”

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 that is 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 did not. The Czech Republic entered with other countries even though its delegation has had several positive COVID-19 tests since arriving.

“You had to face great challenges on your Olympic journey,” Bach told the athletes. “Today you are making your Olympic dream come true.”

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.

“Today, with the world facing great challenges, some are again questioning the power of sport and the value of the Olympic Games,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, said in a speech. But, she said of the Games’ possibilities: “This is the power of sport. … This is its essence.”

Protestors shouted from the outside about their opposition to the Games being played despite the delta variant of the virus still rising in Japan. Only a little over 20% of the population is fully vaccinated. And there have been near-daily reports of positive virus cases within the so-called Olympic bubble that’s meant to separate the Olympic participants from the worried, skeptical Japanese population.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito declared the Games open, with fireworks bursting over the stadium after he spoke.

“After more than half a century, the Olympic Games have returned to Tokyo,” Hashimoto said. “Now we will do everything in our power to make this Games a source of pride for generations to come.”

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Article by Allan Perez