TOKYO —The Olympic Games, delayed by a year because of a pandemic, opened Friday night amid a state of emergency in a largely empty National Stadium with anti-Games protesters blocks away audible through much of the Opening Ceremony.
During a more than three-hour ceremony that had been reduced to a made for television event because of COVID-19 restrictions and marked a glaring lack of energy, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach opened Games that are overwhelming unpopular with the Japanese by stressing togetherness and resilience in his welcoming address.
“We can only go faster, we can only aim higher, we can only become stronger if we stand together – in solidarity,” said Bach, a former Olympic fencer for Germany. “This is why the IOC has adapted the Olympic motto to our times: faster, higher, stronger – together. This feeling of togetherness – this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel of this pandemic. The pandemic forced us to be apart. To keep our distance from each other. To stay away even from our loved ones. This separation made this tunnel so dark.
“But today, wherever in the world you may be, we are united in sharing this moment together. The Olympic flame makes this light shine brighter for all of us.”
Not everyone in Tokyo, however, embraced Bach’s message.
Hundreds of protesters chanting “Stop the Olympics now!” could be heard even over blaring music through much of a ceremony that came on a day when Tokyo recorded 1,359 new COVID-19 cases and local health officials continued to express concerns that the Games had “super spreader” potential. Describing the situation in the host city as “critical,” government health officials warned that the daily rate of new cases could surpass 2,600 in early August. Tokyo reported a record 2,520 new daily cases on January 7. The Games are scheduled to run through August 8.
More than 80 percent of Japanese residents oppose or have concerns about the Games proceeding during Tokyo’s fourth state of emergency, the current one scheduled to run through August 22.
Hours before the Opening Ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga asked Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to move up the scheduled delivery of 20 million vaccine doses. Japan in April contracted with Pfizer for nearly 200 million vaccine doses. One hundred million of those doses were scheduled to be delivered by June with another 70 million coming between July and September. During a 40-minute breakfast meeting at the Akasaka Palace state house, Suga asked the Pfizer executive to forward the delivery date for 20 million doses originally scheduled to be available in October.
The vaccine shortage in Japan is so dire that Taro Kono, the government minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination efforts, asked local governments last week to administer vaccines at a slower pace because of concerns of limited doses in coming weeks. Japan is currently vaccinating an average of 1.5 million people per day. Kono asked local officials to reduce that figure to 1.2 million daily through September. Local officials in some areas of Japan are already suspending or delaying scheduled vaccines because of the shortage.
“I’m sorry, but please wait a little longer,” Kono said.
Only 23 percent of the Japanese population are fully vaccinated with 35 percent having received as least one dose of a vaccine.
With spectators barred from attending Olympic events, National Stadium was empty except for VIPS including First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and the media, giving the ceremony a glorified dress rehearsal vibe absent the energy of recent openings for Beijing and London. While warnings about mask wearing and social distancing were ever present on the stadium’s scoreboards and in and around the venue, the guidelines were for the most part ignored. Thousands pressed up against each other and barriers across the street from the stadium hoping to catch of glimpse of Olympians piling off buses. Athletes, officials and the media were herded into the stadium only inches apart. During the parade of nations, few athletes maintained the recommended 6-feet distance between them as they waved to an empty stadium. Argentina and Italy actually entered the venue like they were lining up for a rugby scrum.
By the time Bach spoke, more than half the athletes had left the stadium, including almost all of the Team USA delegation.
The ceremony was mired in controversy for much of the week. “Although we still have a long way to go, we have reworked the creative plans in order to achieve a more inclusive Games,” Tokyo 2020 said, referring to one of the ceremony’s themes in a guide on the event provided to the media.
But Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada was forced to resign from performing this week after an interview he gave in the 1990s resurfaced. Oyamada, who performs under the name Cornelius, was to be featured at the start of the ceremony performing a composition he had written specifically for the event. In the interview, Oyamada said he bullied classmates with disabilities and others as a child “without any regrets.”
The episode was a major source of embarrassment for Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto.
“I will say that the responsibility rests with me,” she said. “We should have checked solidly and we weren’t able to do that.”
Oyamada, however, wasn’t the only ceremony participant who had vetting issues.
Tokyo 2020 fired the opening ceremony’s director Kentaro Kobayashi on Thursday, just hours before the event after videos surfaced of Kobayashi joking about the Holocaust during a 1990s comedy routine. Hiroshi Sasaki, the ceremony’s creative director, was forced to resign in March after referring to a plus-sized female entertainer as an “Olympig.”
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic flame.
Source: Orange County Register