Tokyo, July 23
In an Olympic opening ceremony like none before, one tradition held firm on Friday as athletes from across the world paraded into an eerie, almost empty national stadium to represent their nations, for the first time their smiles hidden behind masks.
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.
The opening ceremony, normally a star-studded display teeming with celebrities, lacked the usual glitz with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, strict social distancing rules and signs calling on spectators to “be quiet around the venue.” 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. US 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.
Most nations were represented by a man and a woman after the organisers changed their rules to allow two flagbearers.
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, about 20 per nation, 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.