A photo of Kentaro Kobayashi is held up by Tokyo 2020 organisers. (Getty Images) Exclusive
A photo of Kentaro Kobayashi is held up by Tokyo 2020 organisers. (Getty Images)

Olympics: Uneasy build-up to unusual Tokyo opening show

  • With Covid cases rising in Tokyo, the Olympics doesn’t feel like a celebration. Yet. On Wednesday, there were 1,832 cases in Tokyo, a six-month high.
By Avishek Roy, Tokyo
UPDATED ON JUL 22, 2021 11:30 PM IST

A comment made in 1998 has forced the director of the opening ceremony to resign. This happened soon after a composer stepped down for being a bully in school. To say that one day before Friday’s opening ceremony, Tokyo is struggling to rid the tag of ‘Cursed Olympics’ would be understating the obvious.

On Thursday, making global headline was opening ceremony show director Kentaro Kobayashi being fired for a Holocaust comment, footage of which has emerged. In a comic act, Kobayashi had said: “Let’s play Holocaust.” Nothing gets buried in the age of social media, certainly not a loose comment on the genocide of six million Jews during World War 2, so it wasn’t surprising that organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto announced Kobayashi’s dismissal. His ouster comes after musician Keigo Oyamada quit once it emerged that he had bullied classmates with disabilities in school in the 1990s. In March, Olympics creative chief Hiroshi Sasaki had to step down after saying a comedian could appear as an “Olympig”. And in February, former prime minister Yoshiro Mori left as head of the organising committee for inappropriate remarks on women.

With Covid cases rising in Tokyo, the Olympics doesn’t feel like a celebration. Yet. On Wednesday, there were 1,832 cases in Tokyo, a six-month high. Experts have warned the Games could turn into a super-spreader. Over the next 17 days it will be debated whether it was right to host the Olympics in the time of a pandemic.

Television sets beaming softball and football games from eerily silent venues have prepared the world for what would be a strange Olympics. But the ones not complaining are the athletes. They have waited for one more year, and lived through the uncertainty to come this far. “Whatever it takes, they’re going to throw at us, (I’m) just excited to be able to compete again and just follow what... they think is best for us,” said Clayton Murphy, who won bronze in the men’s 800 metres at the Rio Games.

Some like USA’s woman football player Carli Lloyd or triple jumper Will Claye would have missed the Games had it been held on time. “I knew we were going through the pandemic but it was a huge blessing. I had the opportunity to get back to feeling like myself,” said Claye.

Everything has been unusual about these Games so expect the same for the opening ceremony. There will be rows of empty seats and Covid-19 will keep the mood sombre and subdued as athletes walk in. Not more than 1,000 dignitaries are expected to be present at the Olympic Stadium that has a capacity of 68,000.

Teams have been told to keep the contingent size very small and only six officials have been allowed for the march past. From a contingent of 126, India will have just 20 athletes at the ceremony with MC Mary Kom and Manpreet Singh as the flag bearers.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, who is expected to declare the Games open, has said he will not refer to it as a celebration. “United by Emotion” will be the theme at the opening ceremony, emphasising on the coming together of the world in these difficult, unprecedented times.

“The postponement of the Olympics meant the ceremonies had to be simplified,” said Takayuki Hioki, Tokyo 2020Organizing Committee executive producer of ceremonies. “After five years of planning, we found ourselves suddenly having to rethink everything.”

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron will take place after a start-stop torch relay running under theme, Hope Lights Our Way. The torch relay started 16 months ago and faced many obstacles as it traversed through 46 prefectures over 106 days before finally arriving in Tokyo.

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