“It’s finally happening! We did not know until last week if this would be possible,” beams a volunteer as the five gigantic wooden Olympic rings make their way into a near-empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Friday.
The volunteer is ecstatic to see the Games, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, get underway, while hundreds of locals gather outside the stadium to protest the holding of Olympics in the Japanese capital.
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Such is the contrast, such are the two parallels in Japan, where some see the Games as an opportunity to show the world that the country can host the Games even in such testing conditions, while others protest the very decision. In fact, such is their antipathy to the Games that a 53-year-old woman named Kayoko Takahashi tried to douse the Olympic torch last week. She reportedly screamed “No Olympics. Stop the games,” and tried to squirt water through a watergun during the torch relay before being arrested.
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Back at the Olympic Stadium, the opening ceremony was a rather subdued and muted affair as the stands sat empty. The 205 contingents walked out gleefully, waved their flags with gusto, to be greeted by the officials, journalists and volunteers.
Keeping up with the times we live in, the ceremony featured a segment with a performer running on a treadmill and surrounded by darkness – depicting how athletes had to train in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. The opening ceremony also had a strong Manga (Japanese comics and graphic novels) flavour as all the text on the placards was inspired by the speech bubbles featured in comics.
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Nineteen Indian athletes took part in the ceremony and were marshalled by 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom and the Indian men’s hockey team’s captain Manpreet Singh. A 114-member Indian contingent had marched at the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony, which was held in front of a capacity crowd of 78,000 people at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, while 81 Indians marched at the 2012 Games.
But such is the world we are now in – masks and social distancing are the need of the hour and the razzmatazz of an opening ceremony at Tokyo’s $1.45 billion stadium is curtailed by the sight of thousands of empty seats.