Olympic Games opening ceremony under way in Tokyo

After being delayed a year due to Covid-19, troubled event finally begins at Olympic Stadium

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The opening ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games finally got under way on Friday after being delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight years after Japanese newscasters shed tears as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, the ceremony is taking place before empty stands and with the city in a state of emergency.

A ring of steel has been erected around the Olympic Stadium, meaning the excited locals, who were due to be a part of the ceremony until the decision to ban spectators from the Games was made earlier this month, were left to watch those lucky enough to be allowed in from behind fences.

With more than 11,000 athletes arriving from 207 nations for the event, a bio-secure bubble has been set-up to try to keep the action flowing in the Japanese capital during the next two weeks.

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

Japan's Emperor Naruhito is set to declare the opening of the Games, reprising the role of his grandfather who opened the last Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

Those Games were enthusiastically embraced in Japan and abroad, and heralded a new era for the nation after it emerged from the devastation of Second World War and was on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse.

This time, the Tokyo Olympics have been greatly complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and battered by a series of scandals. Public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Japanese are against holding the event during the pandemic.

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 stadium. 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 attend.

A few hundred protesters 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.”

There was also plenty of enthusiasm outside the 68,000-seat stadium in the hours before the ceremony, as hundreds of people gathered hoping to soak up the atmosphere and watch the fireworks expected during the extravaganza.

Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to grab a spot. “We're here for the atmosphere, the light-up and the fireworks,” she told AFP. “Until now it didn't feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics!”

Updated: July 23, 2021, 11:47 AM