After a year's delay, Tokyo Olympic Games finally opens amid pandemic (update 2)

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By Sportswriters Wang Meng, Yi Ling and Lin Hao

TOKYO, July 23 (Xinhua) -- After an extra year of waiting, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally opened Friday night at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium behind closed doors.

The biggest sporting event on the planet is exactly one year later than originally planned due to the postponement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito declared the Games open at the stadium which only about 950 people including officials and reporters were allowed to enter for the opening ceremony due to the coronavirus.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivered an emotional speech at the opening ceremony.

"Today is a moment of hope," Bach said.

"Let us cherish this moment, because finally we are here, all together. Athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, living under one roof together in the Olympic Village. This is the unifying power of sport.

"We can only be all together here because of you, our gracious hosts - the Japanese people, to whom we would like to express all our appreciation and support."

Before the athletes parade began, Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and banker Muhammad Yunus was honored the Olympic Laurel for his extensive work helping athletes "become socially responsible entrepreneurs" and building a new sustainable Olympic model.

Unable to attend the opening ceremony, the 81-year-old Yunus received the award by video link from his home in Dhaka.

The opening ceremony highlighted Japanese tradition with modern culture, while the cauldron was lit by Naomi Osaka after the Olympic flame had traveled to all of Japan's 47 prefectures since late March.

It has been almost eight years since Japanese people celebrated the return of the Olympic Games after the 1964 Games, but the journey to this point was full of challenges.

On March 24, 2020, Japan's then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agreed to delay the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics by one year due to COVID-19, four days after the Olympic flame, which was lit up in Olympia, Greece without spectators, arrived in Japan.

Sixteen months later, the coronavirus is still threatening the Games, with Tokyo put under its fourth state of emergency for the duration of the entire Olympic Games. On Thursday, Tokyo 2020 organizers reported 12 new positive COVID-19 cases related to the Olympics, including two infected foreign athletes in the athletes' village, bringing the total number of Olympics-linked cases to 87 since July 1.

Consequently, the majority of the venues barred spectators from entering, with cheers and chants from previous Games to be put in place as part of the IOC's digital engagement campaign to ensure athletes won't feel alone.

It wasn't until late Thursday night that the organizers confirmed the opening ceremony will stick to its original programs following the firing of ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi after a joke about the Holocaust joke he made in 1998 resurfaced.

Yet, against all odds, a virtual seed under the ground of the Olympic Stadium sprouted out of the ground after intensive struggles displayed by its human representation inside the arena, starting a countdown that led to the eventual start of the spectacle.

Despite some domestic groups' opposition of holding the Games in the face of the pandemic, Tokyo 2020 organizers have pushed ahead resolutely with hopes of strengthening solidarity around the globe.

"Ten years ago, when we decided to bid for the Olympic Games, many people in Japan faced profound difficulties, and were in mourning following the massive Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Many of the affected communities were losing the will to pick themselves up and move forward. People from all over the world extended a helping hand, encouraging us to 'Move forward together!'" said Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto.

"Now, 10 years later, we can show you the extent of Japan's recovery. We are most grateful to all of you.

"Citizens of the world and the people of Japan are with us in spirit as athletes from around the globe gather here at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo under the Olympic flag. Here is a vision for the future, one that embodies 'Unity in Diversity', one of peace and respect for one another. This is the power of sport, and an expression of the fundamental values of the Olympic Movement. This is its essence."

The Tokyo Olympic Games, attracting 11,000 athletes from 206 delegations and the refugee team, will run through August 8.

China has dispatched a 777-member delegation to Tokyo, its largest ever participation in an overseas Games. The 431 Chinese athletes, including 24 Olympic champions, will compete in 30 out of 33 sports in Tokyo. Enditem

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