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No Jubilation for opening of Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games

Naomi Osaka lights the cauldron

By Ricky Browne

So sad to see the opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan – all the fireworks, and all the technical and creative expertise – and virtually nobody in the stadium to give it a real sense of occasion.

The ceremony tried to capture some of the sense of isolation brought on by the pandemic, but nothing captured that feeling better than the rows and rows of empty seats and the lack of spectators.

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There were virtually no spectators to give a standing ovation

The seats were lit and alternately coloured in such a way so as to suggest that people were in them – at least that was the intention.

The fact that the games held onto the 2020 designation, although the whole world knew it was actually 2021, helped to add to the opening’s surreal quality.

Not that there were no spectators at all. There were said to be 1,000 spectators, mainly Olympic officials.

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The Olympic rings were made from the wood of trees that were planted during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Japanese Emperor Naruhito was there – who also attended the 1964 Olympics the last time Tokyo hold the games, when he was four years old. Unlike the Queen at the 2012 London Olympics, he didn’t arrive by parachute, escorted by James Bond. He merely walked to his box seat to unheard applause.

Royalty was also there in the person of Prince Albert of Monaco, a former Olympian and the country’s leader.

Jill Biden, first lady of the United States and wife of President Joe Biden was also said to be there. So was Emmanuel Macron, President of France, which will be putting on the next Olympics in three years.

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US First Lady First Lady Jill Biden observes a moment of silence during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Photo: Dylan Martinez


The haunting melody of the Japanese anthem – really a hymn — sung by Japanese star MISIA as the Japanese flag was raised seemed appropriate for the mood.

That was followed by a moment of silence to remember all those who had died including those who had from the pandemic over the last 18 months, and athletes who had died at the Olympics, including the Israeli athletes from a terrorist attack in Munich 1972.

That was followed by a dance piece by a man who looked like a corpse rising from a grave and then a moment of silence.

To say the ceremony was not one of unbridled joy would seem to be an appropriate statement.

The tone seemed to improve as the Olympic athletes  paraded through the stadium, led by Greece (as is traditional) and followed by Ireland – thanks to its place in the Japanese alphabet. Some athletes were carrying cameras to take shots of the empty seats cheering them on.

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A small part of the UK contingent participated in the opening ceremony

Only 22 athletes from the United Kingdom marched in the parade – though it has many more. With more than 370 athletes it in fact has one of the largest contingents in Japan.

It was interesting to see an image of Bolt feature, with him at the blocks giving thanks in his traditional manner. The star, the fastest man on Earth, retired before these Olympics – and will be spectating at home like millions, perhaps billions, of others. Bolt featured again later ina video of him celebrating as he crossed the finishing line.

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Ricardo Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce carried Jamaica’s flag

Taking Bolt’s place to carry Jamaica’s flag in the parade this year , was heavy weight boxer Ricardo Brown, who also escorted Jamaica’s Olympic queen Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. With her bright red hair and bubbly personality, she is one of the biggest stars of this Olympics, no longer in Bolt’s shadow.

For the US appearance, we were told by the BBC commentators that Simone Byles from the USA was the GOAT – the greatest of all time – so although a gymnast giving Fraser Pryce some competition  in the popularity ratings.

The USA had perhaps the largest contingent – though Japan certainly gave it a good run for its money. America endeared itself to the limited crowd by chanting U – S – A in that not-at-all obnoxious way that the country’s fans are so happy to shout.

Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together – the new slogan for the Olympics – with the addition of the word ‘together’ – to promote unity and solidarity.

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Drones  create a globe over the stadium Photo Marko Đurica/Reuters

One of the highlights of the ceremony was created by technology – lights from some 1,800 drones flying over the stadium in great precision creating first the Japanese Olympic logo and then transforming into a globe of the planet.

That was followed by a version of Imagine by John Lennon (and his Japanese wife Yoko Ono), sung by representatives from the continents, including American star John Legend and Keith Urban from Oceania.

Giving a live presentations of the Olympic sports pictograms was an entertaining break from the sombre affair. That was followed by a popular Japanese comedian, unknown to the rest of the world, but apparently entertaining.

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Naomi Osaka lights up the cauldron Photo: Reuters

Another highlight – this time quite literally – was when Japanese/Haitian tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron on the top of a symbolic representation of Mt Fuji. She trumps both Fraser Pryce and Byles as the face of the 2020 Olympics.

More fireworks followed, spectacular, but perhaps not challenging the fireworks previous Olympics, such as the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

All in all, it was largely a subdued, restrained and sombre affair. But with polls suggesting that some 65 percent of Japanese people don’t want the games, and with some athletes apparantly brining in the Covid-19 virus — its kind of amazing that they are happening at all, even if no one currently feels like celebrating them.

How the events will go with no spectators watching except on TV, and wether the athletes will be able to break any records or even beat their personal bests, remains to be sen.

Three years from now, pandemic notwithstanding, the Olympics will be in the city of light – Paris. Will the occasion return to a more celebratory format?

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