The Tokyo Summer Olympics, after over a year of delay, opened Friday night in a stadium full of empty chairs.

In an opening ceremony designed more for television than for an audience, masked athletes paraded and waved to the nearly empty seats. Plans had included social distancing in the parade, but the athletes bunched and gathered anyway. Even those from the Czech Republic, who had reported several positive tests for COVID-19 since their arrival in Tokyo.

Alone, Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka ran up a symbolic Mount Fiji bearing the Olympic flame, and thrust it into the cauldron. There was no roar of the crowd – instead, cameras could pick up the sound of protesters outside the stadium over the triumphal music.

“Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in his speech to those who were assembled. “But let us cherish this moment because finally we are all here together. … This feeling of togetherness — this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the pandemic. You had to face great challenges on your Olympic journey. Today you are making your Olympic dream come true.”

His words were, perhaps, a little tone-deaf. Japan is in the middle of a resurgence of the disease, with over 3,000 new cases being announced a day, up from a low of 1,400 cases a day this time in June. The county has had over 15,000 reported deaths due to the disease, nearly all of them since December.

A moment of silence was held for the victims, and again, the protests could be heard. Many in Japan did not want the Tokyo Summer Olympics to be held yet, or perhaps at all, and believe Japan was forced to host under duress so the IOC can profit.

Image: Tomacrosse /