'Breaks my heart': Tokyo Olympics kicks off with 'eerie' opening ceremony

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The Olympics opening ceremony got underway amid an eerie backdrop in Tokyo. Pic: Getty
The Olympics opening ceremony got underway amid an eerie backdrop in Tokyo. Pic: Getty

The Olympic Games finally got underway in Tokyo on Friday night - albeit one year late - with the opening ceremony played out behind a bizarre backdrop befitting of the times we find ourselves in.

The coronavirus pandemic meant the opening ceremony - traditionally a spectacle put on in front of a packed stadium - instead went ahead in front of only a select number of officials, dignitaries and the world's media.

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The show opened with a dramatic video countdown that included iconic stars of the Games.

A darkness descended on the stadium before the whole arena lit up in a white glow that was accompanied by a dazzling fireworks display. 

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 was a running theme with an early piece of choreography illustrating the new ways in which society have tried to stay connected through such challenging times.

Of course, the spectacle - being beamed to a global TV audience in the billions - was being played out in front of a largely empty stadium in Tokyo.

A rather sombre opening was followed by an announcement that a moment's silence would be held inside the stadium, as cameras panned across the cavernous space of empty seats.

The powerful moment proved a poignant reminder to viewers about the sad reality of these Games.

Team Australia make their entrance

Australia would normally be one of the earliest countries to come out for the opening ceremony but the Green and Gold were pushed back for the Tokyo Games, with countries to come out in Japanese alphabetical order.

Led out by flagbearers Cate Campbell (swimming) and Patty Mills (basketball), the Aussie team was comprised of a 63-strong contingent of athletes.

Accompanying the four-time Aussie Olympians was Campbell's swimming coach Simon Cusack and Boomers' team manager Albert Junior Viranatuleo.

Australian Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman and Deputy Chef de Mission Susie O'Neill followed, along with Games veterans Sam Stosur (fifth Olympics) and Melissa Wu and Joe Ingles (fourth Games).

The remainder of the Australian contingent were ordered in terms of seniority, with Olympic debutants filing into the stadium last.

Australia flag bearers Cate Campbell and Patty Mills are seen here leading their team in for the opening ceremony.
Flag bearers Cate Campbell and Patty Mills lead team Australia in during the opening ceremony. Pic: Getty

A Games like no other

Eight years after Japanese newscasters shed tears as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, Friday's spectacle came while Tokyo remained in a state of emergency.

Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a super-spreader event prompted organisers to clamp the Games in a biosecure straitjacket.

Overseas fans are banned for the first time ever, and domestic spectators will be kept out of all but a handful of venues.

Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.

Seen here, A general view as the Olympic Rings and cauldron are seen on stage during the opening ceremony.
A general view as the Olympic Rings and cauldron are seen on stage during the opening ceremony. Pic: Getty

Polls have consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.

Friday is a national holiday in Japan and families set up picnic blankets in Tokyo parks to watch the jets draw the Olympic rings in coloured smoke.

Traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games, featuring the parade of nations and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, Tokyo's opening ceremony will be drastically pared back.

Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat stadium when events get under way at 8:00 pm local time (1100 GMT).

Most world leaders have opted to stay away, though US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron - whose country will host the 2024 Paris Olympics - will be in the stands along with Japan's Emperor Naruhito.

Pictured here, performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Pic: Getty

But in a sign of how divisive the Games remain, several top sponsors including Toyota and Panasonic will not be sending executives.

A few hundred protestors demonstrated against the Games on Friday morning near the Tokyo government building where Governor Yuriko Koike welcomed the Olympic flame.

"Even though the pandemic continues, we will hold a safe and secure Games," Koike said.

"We are determine to see it through. Today is the first step towards that."

Tokyo is battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures that means bars and restaurants must shut by 8pm and cannot sell alcohol.

Games dogged by controversy

But Olympic officials have put a brave face on the unusual circumstances, with IOC chief Bach insisting cancellation was never on the table.

"Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds," he said this week. "We had doubts every day. There were sleepless nights.

"We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel. Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes... we did it for the athletes."

There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.

The pandemic has not been the only hiccup in preparations though, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony's director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video from 1998.

with agencies

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