At an Olympics opening ceremony overshadowed by the coronavirus, Tokyo 2020 organisers on Friday paid tribute to medical workers as athletes from across the world paraded into an almost empty stadium, their smiles hidden behind masks for the first time.
Normally a star-studded display teeming with celebrities, the ceremony was shorn of its glitz, with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, strict social distancing rules and signs calling on spectators to “be quiet around the venue.”
The organisers also sent the traditional message of peace as global pop stars sang John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Imagine,” while drones formed the shape of the Olympic emblem in the sky above the stadium and transformed into the shape of the globe.
“With the world in a tough situation because of the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to pay my respect and express my gratitude to medical workers and all those who are working hard every day to overcome the difficulties,” said the president of the organising committee, Seiko Hashimoto.
Most countries were represented by both male and female flagbearers in an Olympic first, but not everybody took pandemic measures.
Teams from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Pakistan flagbearers paraded maskless in an awkward contrast to protocol and the vast majority of other athletes at the ceremony.
Regardless, it marked a coming together of the world, with an audience of hundreds of millions around the globe and at various stages of the pandemic tuning in to watch the start of the greatest show in sport.
Members of the Canada delegation wore patches in the colour of the rainbow, the symbol of the LGBT community, on their jackets.
U.S. first lady, Jill Biden, clapped the Americans as did France President, Emmanuel Macron, for the French team.
The Olympic oath, recited by the athletes at the end of the parade, has been updated for the Tokyo Games, with athletes swearing their commitment to inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination for the first time at the Olympics.
The opening also featured fireworks in indigo and white, the colours of the Tokyo 2020 emblem, and gave a nod to Japanese tradition represented by giant wooden Olympic rings linked to the 1964 Games.
A vastly smaller number of athletes marched in the teams’ parade, with many flying in just before their competitions and due to leave shortly after to avoid infections.
Delegations tried their best to liven the mood. Uganda, wearing bright traditional costumes, did a few measures of a dance, while the Argentine delegation jumped up and down on entering.
The Nigerian contingent was also fully represented in their green and white attire.