The Tokyo Olympics were declared open in an eerily empty stadium on Friday after defying a year’s pandemic delay and lingering coronavirus threats that will make them perhaps the most unusual Games in history.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito made the announcement against the backdrop of thousands of vacant seats at Tokyo’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, after Covid-19 forced organisers to ban spectators at all but a handful of venues.
“I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch, wearing a white surgical mask.
The stripped-down ceremony, simplified to reduce coronavirus risks, unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.
A reduced parade of about 5,700 athletes, far lower than the usual numbers, filed into the stadium, not all of them socially distanced but all wearing masks.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach acknowledged the Games would be “very different from what all of us had imagined.”
But “today is a moment of hope”, he said in an address.
The 16-day Games, with 339 Gold medals across 33 sports, have a surreal air after the pandemic compelled organisers to make this the first Games with virtually no spectators.