Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka on Friday lit the Olympic cauldron to mark the formal start of Tokyo 2020, in an opening ceremony shorn of glitz and overshadowed by a pandemic but celebrated as a moment of global hope. Osaka lifted the torch to the gleaming cauldron, which had unfurled at the top of a ramp representing Mount Fuji, in the highlight of a ceremony that was stripped back over virus fears.
Osaka was handed the torch by a group of children from the region around Fukushima which was devastated by a tsunami and a nuclear disaster in 2011. Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games in an eerily empty 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, in Tokyo’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium. It was an uplifting moment in a low-key ceremony that unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes. Organisers also paid tribute to medical workers as athletes from across the world paraded into an almost empty stadium. The ceremony climaxed with a fusion of traditional kabuki theatre – with its elaborate makeup and costumes – and a jaz piano improvisation, on a stage topped with the cauldron for the Olympic flame.