Tokyo Olympics begins amid pandemic, ‘seeking unity through sports a common aspiration’
Achieving unity through the Games a common aspiration: experts
Published: Jul 24, 2021 12:16 AM
Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

With no spectators and a reduced delegation at the National Stadium, the opening ceremony of the postponed Olympics amid a pandemic was held in Tokyo on Friday evening. 

With China's high expectations and huge support to Tokyo in both sports and diplomacy, Chinese experts said it's the common aspiration of the international community to achieve development and bridge cracks through the Olympic Games, paving the way for global recovery in a post-pandemic period. 

The opening ceremony took place without spectators, reducing the number of people involved in the event to about 950, media reported. 

The ceremony began with a growing seed which represents hope and lives. The following scene after opening fireworks showed athletes training alone during the pandemic.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito, also the honorary patron of the Olympics and Paralympics, attended the opening ceremony with International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. 

After the Japanese flag was hoisted slowly against the backdrop of empty stands, a moment of silence was held to mourn the global victims of the COVID-19. 

The IOC has amended its "Faster, Higher, Stronger" motto to include the word "Together" on Tuesday, highlighting the need for solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All the athletes attending the ceremony wore a mask and most of them followed social distancing protocols.  

Leading the Parade of Nations was Greece, where the Olympics began thousands of years ago, and where the first modern Games took place in 1896. 2028 Olympics host US, 2024 Games host France and Japan were the final three appearances at the parade.  

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Team China was led by volleyball world champion Zhu Ting and taekwondo Olympic gold medalist Zhao Shuai as flag bearers. The Chinese mainland sent 777 people to Tokyo, its largest delegation ever sent overseas, including 431 athletes.

After 1,800 drones forming a globe icon in the sky, Bach said that the Olympics are showing the "unifying power of sports."

"Today is a moment of hope… It is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment. Finally, we are all here together," Bach said.

Many Chinese people shared their excitement about the Tokyo Olympics, and said they had watched on television as people came together in the name of the Olympics amid the pandemic. The topic of "Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony" received over 240 million readings and 230,000 comments an hour after the event began.  

More than 60 percent of netizens voted to support Tokyo in a Weibo poll, although some consider the performance a bit obscure compared to the grand opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

One day before the opening, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saluted the Olympic athletes, who have "overcome enormous obstacles." 

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

'Far from easy'

Japan has made great efforts and sacrifices in the face of public opinion, epidemic control and corporate pressure… the holding of the Games should be seen as a victory, Da Zhigang, chief expert at the Northeast Asian Strategic Studies Institute, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Different from the previous Olympics which were more used to promote national image, the Tokyo Olympics held under a state of emergency reflects the educational attribute of sports in letting people learn the importance of unity when faced with crisis, Da said.  

Nineteen Olympic-linked COVID-19 cases were found, three of which were from the Tokyo Olympic athletes' village, the Games organizer said on Friday. 

Concerns did not ease until the opening ceremony kicked off. Three days before the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games organizing committee admitted it could not rule out a last-minute cancelation of the Games. 

As the first modern Olympic Games in human history to be held amid COVID-19 pandemic, preparations for Tokyo 2020 have not been easy. Chinese analysts earlier pointed out that the international community should give Japan enough support and tolerance.  

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

At the diplomatic level, China has expressed its support for Japan's hosting of the Tokyo Olympics at its difficult time. 

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday that support for each other's successful hosting of the Olympic Games is an important consensus reached by the leaders of China and Japan. And China looks forward to a safe and secure Games in Tokyo, and will continue to support Japan.  

Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou said on Monday that he believes the Tokyo Games can be a grand gathering that promotes the Olympic spirit and courage, confidence and hope to the world under the pandemic.  

Due to surging infections in Japan, only about 15 foreign leaders attended the opening ceremony, a sharp decline compared to over 80 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and that of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which was attended by more than 40 world leaders. 

French President Emmanuel Macron was among a handful of foreign dignitaries who attended the opening. France is the host country of the 2024 Olympics, so Macron's visit will include talks with IOC chief Thomas Bach, media reported. 

During a meeting on Thursday, Japanese Emperor Naruhito told Bach that it is "far from an easy task" to hold the Games while battling the pandemic, Kyodo News reported. 

Unity is the theme of the Tokyo Games, Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sports commentator, told the Global Times on Friday. "Even if there is still opposition to hosting the Tokyo Olympics, as the event progresses, it will fade over time."

The pandemic has disrupted the Olympic cycle and athletes' preparation, but it has also given people a deeper understanding of building a community with a shared future for mankind, Wang said. 

There's no reason for any country to laugh at Tokyo when it is in trouble holding a grand event that carries mankind's hope, and the same goes for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Wang said. 

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Tokyo Olympics kicks off after one-year delay Photo:Cui Meng/GT

Learn from the past

Fifty-seven years ago, the opening of 1964 Tokyo Olympics marked the first Summer Olympic Games in Asia. Yoshinori Sakai, the torchbearer who lit the Olympic cauldron in Tokyo, was born on the day of the US atomic bombing in Hiroshima.

The 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo was regarded as a pivotal movement for Japan to walk out of the haze of war, regaining confidence in development and reintegrate into global community. 

Besides the Tokyo Olympics, 2021 also marks the 50th anniversary of ping-pong diplomacy, an ice-breaking landscape between China and the US amid the Cold War.

"No one expected the visit of a group of US table tennis players to China would change the global landscape so dramatically... so why can't the Olympics in Tokyo and Beijing make contributions to ease global tensions?" questioned Wang.  

At the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, athletes from North Korea and South Korea entered the Olympic Stadium under a united flag showing an entire Korean peninsula. 

It is the common aspiration of the international community to achieve development and unity through the Olympic Games, analysts said. 

If Tokyo has a nice and safe Olympics, then more confidence and encouragement will be given to the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, and to silence those calling for a boycott, Da said. 

The Beijing Winter Olympics will gain more understanding and tolerance from the international community… People may even turn their expectations for a landmark victory over the epidemic to the Beijing Winter Games, another battlefield to continue to demonstrate the determination of mankind to defeat the disaster and the solidarity of the international community, Da said. 

Beijing has such a sense of mission and responsibility… and sports should never be a tool for geopolitical games, the expert noted.