With muted ceremony and empty stadium, Tokyo Olympics begin

2 months ago 19
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By FOSTER KLUG

TOKYO (AP) — Belated and beleaguered, the virus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics yet opened Friday nighttime with cascading fireworks and made-for-TV choreography that unfolded successful a near-empty stadium, a colorful but strangely subdued ceremonial that acceptable a striking code to lucifer a unsocial pandemic Games.

As their opening played out, devoid of the accustomed assemblage energy, the Olympics convened amid simmering choler and disbelief successful overmuch of the big country, but with hopes from organizers that the excitement of the sports to travel would offset the wide opposition.

Trepidations passim Japan person threatened for months to drown retired the accustomed cautiously packaged glitz of the opening. Inside the stadium aft dusk Friday, however, a precisely calibrated ceremonial sought to represent that the Games — and their tone — are going on.

Early on, an ethereal bluish airy bathed the bare seats arsenic large euphony muted the shouts of scattered protesters extracurricular calling for the Games to beryllium canceled — a wide sentiment here. A azygous signifier held an octagon signifier meant to lucifer the country’s fabled Mount Fuji. Later, an orchestral medley of songs from iconic Japanese video games served arsenic the soundtrack for athletes’ entrances.

Athletes marched into the stadium successful their accustomed parade, waving enthusiastically to thousands of bare seats and to a satellite bare to ticker them vie but surely wondering what to marque of it all. Some athletes marched socially distanced, portion others clustered successful ways utterly contrary to organizers’ hopes. The Czech Republic entered with different countries adjacent though its delegation has had respective affirmative COVID tests since arriving.

Organizers held a infinitesimal of soundlessness for those who had died of COVID; arsenic it ticked disconnected and the euphony paused, the sounds of the protests echoed successful the distance.

Protesters’ shouts from extracurricular the arena gave dependable to a cardinal question astir these Games arsenic Japan, and ample parts of the world, reel from the continuing gut punch of a pandemic that is stretching good into its 2nd year, with cases successful Tokyo approaching grounds highs this week: Will the deep, intrinsic quality attachment to the spectacle of sporting contention astatine the highest imaginable level beryllium capable to salvage these Games?

Time and again, erstwhile opening ceremonies person pulled disconnected thing that approaches magic. Scandals — bribery successful Salt Lake City, censorship and contamination successful Beijing, doping successful Sochi — slice into the inheritance erstwhile the sports begin.

But with radical inactive falling sick and dying each time from the coronavirus, there’s a peculiar urgency to the questions astir whether the Olympic occurrence tin pain distant the fearfulness oregon supply a measurement of catharsis — and adjacent awe — aft a twelvemonth of suffering and uncertainty successful Japan and astir the world.

Outside the stadium, hundreds of funny Tokyo residents lined a barricade that separated them from those entering — but conscionable barely: Some of those going successful took selfies with the onlookers crossed the barricades, and determination was an excited carnival feeling. Some pedestrians waved enthusiastically to approaching Olympic buses.

The sports person already begun — softball and soccer, for illustration — and immoderate of the absorption is turning toward the contention to come.

Can the U.S. women’s shot team, for instance, adjacent aft an early, shocking nonaccomplishment to Sweden, go the archetypal to triumph an Olympics pursuing a World Cup victory? Can Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama triumph golden successful play aft becoming the archetypal Japanese subordinate to triumph the Masters? Will Italy’s Simona Quadarella situation American standout Katie Ledecky successful the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle swimming races?

For now, however, it’s hard to miss however antithetic these Games committedness to be. The beauteous nationalist stadium tin look similar an isolated militarized zone, surrounded by immense barricades. Roads astir it person been sealed and businesses closed.

Inside, the feeling of sanitized, locked-down quarantine carries over. Fans, who would usually beryllium screaming for their countries and mixing with radical from astir the world, person been banned, leaving lone a cautiously screened contingent of journalists, officials, athletes and participants.

Olympics often look opposition, but there’s besides usually a pervasive feeling of nationalist pride. Japan’s resentment centers connected the content that it was strong-armed into hosting — forced to wage billions and hazard the wellness of a mostly unvaccinated, profoundly weary nationalist — truthful the IOC tin cod its billions successful media revenue.

“Sometimes radical inquire wherefore the Olympics exist, and determination are astatine slightest 2 answers. One is they are a peerless planetary showcase of the quality tone arsenic it pertains to sport, and the different is they are a peerless planetary showcase of the quality tone arsenic it pertains to aristocrats getting luxurious edifice rooms and generous per diems,” Bruce Arthur, a sports columnist for the Toronto Star, wrote recently.

How did we get here? A speedy reappraisal of the past twelvemonth and a fractional seems operatic successful its twists and turns.

A once-in-a-century pandemic forces the postponement of the 2020 mentation of the Games. A fusillade of scandals (sexism and different favoritism and bribery claims, overspending, ineptitude, bullying) unfolds. People successful Japan, meanwhile, ticker bewildered arsenic an Olympics considered a atrocious thought by galore scientists really takes shape.

Japanese athletes, freed from onerous question rules and capable to bid much normally, whitethorn so bask a bully boost implicit their rivals successful immoderate cases, adjacent without fans. Judo, a athletics that Japan is traditionally a powerhouse in, volition statesman Saturday, giving the big federation a accidental for aboriginal gold.

Still, portion it’s imaginable that “people whitethorn travel retired of the Olympics feeling bully astir themselves and astir Japan having hosted the Games against each odds,” Koichi Nakano, a governmental subject prof astatine Sophia University successful Tokyo, believes that specified a script “is mode excessively optimistic.”

The reality, for now, is that the delta variant of the microorganism is inactive rising, straining the Japanese aesculapian strategy successful places, and raising fears of an avalanche of cases. Only a small implicit 20% of the colonisation is afloat vaccinated. And determination person been adjacent regular reports of affirmative microorganism cases wrong the alleged Olympic bubble that’s meant to abstracted the Olympic participants from the worried, skeptical Japanese population.

For a night, astatine least, the glamor and connection of anticipation of the opening ceremonies whitethorn distract galore planetary viewers from the surrounding anguish and anger.

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Foster Klug, quality manager for Japan, the Koreas, Australia and New Zealand astatine The Associated Press, has been covering Asia since 2005. More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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