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Tokyo Olympics commence with subdued ceremony after rocky beginnings

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The Tokyo 2020 Olympics began Friday in a ceremony many considered subdued as athletes were greeted by an empty stadium after facing numerous setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fireworks rang out as citizens from across the world walked through the arena, which could have held roughly 68,000 fans. Organizers atop an octagon-shaped stage, meant to represent the country's Mount Fuji, held a moment of silence for those who died from COVID-19 before music played over flag-waving athletes.

Protests blared outside the stadium as Japan remains divided on the issue of hosting the games amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Eighty-three percent of respondents to an Asahi Shimbun survey in May said the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed or canceled.

The Japanese government banned nearly all spectators from the events earlier in July after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga put the country on alert over the delta COVID-19 strain.

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At times, the sounds of protesters on megaphones penetrated the stadium during the $150 million ceremony, which many viewers categorized as "boring." Only 950 spectators were permitted to attend the event, including first lady Jill Biden, who was one of 15 foreign dignitaries present.

Though some groups, such as Team Portugal, appeared to be more lively than others.

A day prior, Kentaro Kobayashi, the opening ceremony director for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, was fired for a Holocaust joke he allegedly made 23 years ago. The 48-year-old reportedly made the remark during a comedy sketch in 1998, which included the phrase, "Let's play Holocaust."

His dismissal was announced by Seiko Hashimoto, the organizing committee president.

"We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country," Hashimoto said.

The games were embroiled in another scandal after three members, two players, and an official with South Africa's football team tested positive for coronavirus Sunday after arriving in the Olympic Village. The trio had initially tested negative, and the positive results barred the entire club from training until the situation was resolved.

Fifty-five cases were linked to the games at the time, including those thought to be transmitted from contractors and officials. That number has since ballooned to 87. Eleven-thousand athletes occupy 21 buildings in Tokyo.

People present the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 23, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) Petr David Josek/AP

On Thursday, two Czech Olympic beach volleyball players tested positive as they were forced to withdraw from the events. Before them, five U.S. players tested positive in addition to at least one athlete from the Netherlands, a shooter from Great Britain, a Russian swimmer, and several others.

In April, North Korea became the first country to pull out of the Olympics over COVID-19 concerns, and Guinea followed suit, though leaders reversed the decision.

COVID-19 aside, some athletes have withdrawn of their own accord.

On Sunday, Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer who won three gold medals and a silver during the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, decided not to travel to Tokyo after her mother, Maria, who also serves as her caretaker, was barred from attending the games with her. Meyers was born with Usher syndrome, a condition that left her deaf at birth and progressively removed her sight over time.

“I would love to go to Tokyo,” the 26-year-old said. “Swimming has given me my identity as a person. I’ve always been Becca the Swimmer Girl. I haven’t taken this lightly. This has been very difficult for me. [But] I need to say something to effect change because this can’t go on any longer.”

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On June 29, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials said Becca's caretaking accommodation would no longer be viable due to COVID-19 measures adopted by Tokyo commissioners. However, her family has contested that Japan has not forbidden her mother's travel, but rather Team USA leaders are responsible.

The Olympics, despite the hiccups, are set to proceed with equestrian, shooting, and rowing events. On Saturday, athletes will compete in basketball, gymnastics, badminton, beach volleyball, boxing, and soccer.

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Tags: News, Tokyo, Olympics, 2020 Olympics, Coronavirus, Sports, Japan

Original Author: Jake Dima

Original Location: Tokyo Olympics commence with subdued ceremony after rocky beginnings

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