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TOKYO – The singing of the anthem was lovely, the show was spectacular, and yet the Tokyo Opening Ceremony “2020” still felt out of step with reality. Inside the Olympic Stadium, there was so little power that when the video screen declared 25 seconds to go hardly anyone seemed to notice. With no fans allowed in the building, it was possible to hear the hundreds of protesters shouting in the streets outside throughout the show, because they don’t want the Olympics here, and if you agree with them is beside the point. You cannot celebrate with respect to a country that resents you for doing so.
The logo of these Olympic Games should be clapping with one hand. The fireworks on the stadium roof almost looked like an act of aggression. The athletes entered and saluted the empty seats. Who was he kidding? Without context, this was a beautiful evening, but context does matter. The Opening Ceremony shows us how a country (or its government) wants to be seen. Polls show that at this time, most Japanese do not want this event.
The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee put on a beautiful but doomed show. There was a moment of silence for those who died of COVID-19, and a stationary bike and treadmill to represent athletes training in isolation. Seeing baseball legend Sadaharu Oh hold the Olympic flame and then Naomi Osaka charge it a few minutes later was a reminder of how momentous the Olympics are. But the pageantry of the Olympics doesn’t feel the same this year. The fun will have to come from the games: lowercase gram.
He just runs a bunch of sports contests. Give us Simone Biles leaping over the competition, literally if possible, please, and the swimmers who set world records and thousands of athletes who do what even they weren’t sure was possible. Athletic performances should remain special. They will probably also be the only normal aspect of the Olympics.
At least hope events go according to plan. There should be real concerns that a COVID-19 outbreak will ruin these Olympics. Predicting the future is crazy, especially these days when we can’t even agree on what has already happened, let alone what will happen. The word shipwreck it is also subjective. The reality for the American public is that if COVID-19 knocks out all handball teams, it won’t ruin anything, because Americans don’t care about handball. (This is a flaw in our national character. Handball is amazing). If the virus rips out Biles, Caeleb Dressel, and Katie Ledecky, that’s a problem, and not just for NBC.
The Olympics are massive and compressed, with more than 11,000 athletes competing in a short period of time. That means a lot of potential exposure to the coronavirus and no real opportunity to reschedule anything. Athletes who test positive will not be able to compete.
The US Olympic Committee announced on Friday that 83% of its athletes have been vaccinated, which is higher than the national average, but that means that roughly 100 American athletes here are not vaccinated, and it is reasonable to assume that with an access Widespread to vaccinations and healthcare, the vaccination rate of US athletes is higher than most countries.
Young, healthy, vaccinated people like Biles are highly unlikely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. But they can still test positive and see years of work go to waste. There is no comfort in saying, “Sure, I missed a gold medal, but I had no symptoms.”
There will be positive tests. There have already been some. The questions are how many and how prominent are they. The US delegation that entered the opening ceremony was smaller than at most Summer Games. The organizers and the majority of American athletes understand how precarious the situation is.
COVID-19 is intertwined with these Olympics. That is not a negative opinion. It’s just an honest one. There will be no fans, there will be no juice, there will be no sense that Japan is on display to the world. Competition on the track can feel eerily like the NFL mix.
Protesters outside the Olympic Stadium are also intertwined with the Olympic Games. This is not like when sports journalists wondered if universities should organize soccer games. The population of the host country is part of the Olympic Games. Most sports fans don’t remember where specific Super Bowls were played, but they say “Lillehammer” or “Sydney” to people who love the Olympics, and they can immediately summon a year and a box of memories.
Outside the stadium on Friday, people chanted. Inside, we hear:
Ladies and gentlemen, please defend His Majesty …
Most of the people seated in the stadium were journalists, who, as a matter of professional protocol, should not represent any majesty. The request felt like a stale line that someone forgot to delete. The entire opening ceremony felt like this. The emperor had no audience.
More coverage of the Olympics:
• The games continue, with a new purpose
• Meet Team USA athletes competing in Tokyo
• Katie Ledecky is hungry for more in Tokyo
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.