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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.
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.
— #Tokyo2020 (@Tokyo2020) July 23, 2021
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.
— Penny Christie (@pennychristie_) July 23, 2021
Watching the opening ceremony for the Olympics and the empty seats are so eerie.
— Jen (@poohj916) July 23, 2021
— ꧁☬𝐻𝑅𝐻 𝒫𝓇𝒾𝓃𝒸𝑒 𝒫𝒽𝑜𝑒𝓃𝒾𝓍☬꧂ ™ (@Prince_Phoenix) July 23, 2021
— jhoebert manire (@jhoebertmanire) July 23, 2021
The moment of silence was powerful, as was the pan of the stadium with all the empty seats. #OliverTalksOpening
— oliver (@oliver_bear) July 23, 2021
Eerie to see the empty stadium for the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
The magnitude of death and devastation that Covid-19 has brought down upon the world is represented by those empty seats. May the next few days of sporting events give us all something to hope for again.
— Diana (@DeeDemmel) July 23, 2021
This is so dystopian looking ...masks, Olympic legends waving to empty seats, a tribute to those who have died, a dance for the spirits - a sombre start #Olympics
— Sarah Macdonald 💉💉 (@sarahvmac) July 23, 2021
I can’t help but feel sad thinking about what a joyous moment this should have been for Japan. A beautiful ceremony but they can’t show off their incredible city, all those empty seats 😔 #Tokyo2020
— Kate Pattison (@katepatto) July 23, 2021
— Hannah 💉💉 🇸🇬 (@kairos_catcher) July 23, 2021
— Devin Heroux (@Devin_Heroux) July 23, 2021
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.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 23, 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
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