Tokyo: One of the strangest Olympic Games in history will kick off with an equally unusual start when the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony takes place in front of thousands of empty seats on Friday.
Only 1,000 dignitaries will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic stadium for traditional extravagance, usually a moment of celebration for the host country.
This time around, after a year of pandemic delay, the Japanese public is largely locked out and suspicious of the games, fearing an influx of infections from foreign visitors.
The ceremony was pared down to avoid crowds, with the Parade of Nations, the centerpiece of the show featuring smiling and waving athletes, drastically reduced.
Glimpses of rehearsals attended by residents of Tokyo suggest a high-tech spectacle that includes a display of drones.
Emperor of Japan Naruhito will be the leader among the VIPs, along with a handful of world leaders and prominent figures, including US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Tokyo 2020 has seen difficult preparation and the opening ceremony was no exception, with a series of sackings of people linked to the show.
Ceremonial director Kentaro Kobayashi was fired the day before the show because of a 1998 comedy sketch referring to the Holocaust. Kobayashi made a joke about the Holocaust as part of his comedy act in the 1990s which recently resurfaced in national media. “I sincerely apologize for causing problems and concerns to many concerned as well as to the people of Tokyo and the Japanese as the opening ceremony quickly approaches,” said Seiko Hashimoto, who heads the steering Committee.
Earlier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization, issued a statement saying Kobayashi’s association with the Olympics “would insult the memory” of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Kobayashi apologized for his past comments in a statement.
It came just three days after a composer resigned from the ceremony following an outcry over past interviews in which he described abusing disabled classmates.
The creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, also resigned in March after suggesting that a plus-size actress appear like a pig.
The focal point of the ceremony is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, which will close a tortuous torch relay that began 16 months ago and has encountered several obstacles.
After the flame was lit in a spectatorless ceremony in Olympia, Greece, in March last year, the Greek section of the relay was cut when a crowd invaded Hollywood actor Gerard Butler in Sparta .
The flame had barely landed in Japan when the Olympics were postponed and it was on display across the country until the relay restarted in March.
However, nearly half of the relay stages were removed from public roads or otherwise altered due to coronavirus concerns, and fans were kept away when it finally arrived in Tokyo this month.