Review from the Telegrah, in case anyone can't read cos of paywall
Imagine there’s no Covid. There was no way anyone watching Friday night’s Opening Ceremony at Tokyo 2020 could. Reminders were everywhere on a truly bizarre and ultimately rather poignant evening in Japan’s capital.
From the deserted stands in Tokyo’s 60,000 seat National stadium - stands which are sadly destined to remain empty for the next fortnight - to the meagre delegations that attended the athletes’ parade, to the pockets of protesters camped outside the stadium shouting “Cancel the Olympics”.
By the time a collection of international popstars delivered a recorded cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous anthem to peace, it was difficult to imagine much beyond the fact that these next two weeks are going to be trying for all concerned.
If the job of an opening ceremony is to reflect the spirit of the moment then this one succeeded. It was rather beautiful in its own way. Simple. It did not try to match the power or scale of Beijing 2008, when thousands of drummers banged the Games open with military precision. Or the charm or originality of London 2012 with its Danny Boyle-inspired history of Britain that had the rest of the world bemused and amused in equal measure - not least when Her Majesty was pushed out of a helicopter by James Bond. This ceremony was not a carnival of colour and samba beats like Rio de Janeiro five years ago. It was a reflection of the times we live in.
An Olympics dogged by controversy, delayed by 12 months, but still taking place in the grip of a global pandemic, opened with minimal fanfare, certainly by the standards of these mega-events. This must have been the first Olympic opening ceremony where volunteers outnumbered attendees. Just 900 stakeholders and VIPs, and 3500 members of the media were in the stands.
Roughly the same as the number of athletes, in fact. With most of them terrified of catching Covid-19 or being identified as ‘close contacts’ of those who do - a fate which has already left six Team GB athletes confined to quarters for an indefinite length of time - not many were prepared to take the risk of leaving the relative safety of the Olympic Village.
Just 23 of Britain’s 376-strong delegation showed up, although even with so few attending, the reliably interminable athletes’ parade lasted almost 2hrs.
It is a desperately sad state of affairs for a country which hosted such a magnificent Rugby World Cup 20 months ago, and a people who could not have been more welcoming or excited about the prospect of hosting the Greatest Show on Earth.
There were moments of hope, of levity; the Argentinean delegation bouncing around excitedly, reminding us that this is the biggest moment of these athletes’ lives as sportspeople and they are right to grab it with both hands. Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan taekwondo practitioner and skier, who marched shirtless five years ago and was back with more baby oil than ever. Britain’s Moe Sbihi, a 6ft8in rower, towering over his fellow flagbearer, 5ft2in sailor Hannah Mills. The blue smurf-like figures doing their pictograms of the different Olympic sports was fun. And the ‘drone globe’ - 1,824 drones flying in unison above the stadium in the shape of the Earth - was inspired.
But mostly it was rather sad. Japanese police had erected a perimeter around the stadium to keep spectators away. Thousands turned up anyway, waiting patiently outside without anything to watch. They were interspersed with pockets of protesters. Not many but enough to be heard every time there was a silence in proceedings inside the stadium - such as for the moment of remembrance for loved ones no longer with us.
It was a poignant reminder that those who want these Games to take place cannot get in, and those who do not cannot stop it. Nothing can stop this now. The hope is that it does not run out of control and that for the next two weeks the world’s best athletes, from Simone Biles to Adam Peaty to Naomi Osaka - the face of the Games ,who ultimately lit the cauldron at close to midnight local time - will offer moments of genius and wonder and joy and make us forget. Imagine there’s no covid? I wonder if we can. Let the Games commence.