Tokyo Paralympic athletes enter stadium as opening ceremony begins
Written by tokyoclub on August 24, 2021
The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics began Tuesday night, with mask-wearing athletes entering the National Stadium at a time when the coronavirus pandemic remains a major concern in the city holding the world’s largest sporting event for people with disabilities.
Tokyo is the first city to host the Paralympics twice, having staged the 1964 edition. But this time, the games will be held under conditions that nobody had imagined before the virus took hold, with safety measures preventing regular spectators from attending, as was the case during the Olympics.
Paralympic gold medalists Susie Rodgers (L) and Jane Blackburn (R) attend a flame-lighting ceremony in Stoke Mandeville, a village in southern England that is considered the birthplace of the Paralympic Games, on Aug. 19, 2021, ahead of the Aug. 24 opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
A record 4,403 athletes from 161 countries and regions, as well as a small refugee team, will take center stage through Sept. 5, in what the International Paralympic Committee said is a “remarkable achievement” given the difficulties posed by the global health crisis.
Taking place on a stage resembling an airport, athletes entered in the order of the Japanese alphabet following the refugee team to celebrate the beginning of the Paralympics after a one-year postponement.
Since athletes from Afghanistan could not travel to Tokyo after the Taliban retook control of the country earlier this month, the country’s flag was carried by a volunteer to represent “solidarity” with those in the Central Asian nation.
As he did for the Olympics, Japanese Emperor Naruhito will declare the games open at the stadium, with the 68,000-capacity main venue a sea of empty seats because only VIPs were allowed to attend as a precaution against the spread of the virus.
The number of performers was largely reduced and the content of the ceremony was reviewed in the event, held under the concept of “We Have Wings.”
Organizers hope the Tokyo Paralympics will contribute to building a more inclusive society that embraces people’s differences.
The Paralympic flame, created by unifying flames lit across Japan and in Britain’s Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the games, will be used to light the cauldron.
While the 17-day Tokyo Olympics ended without a major outbreak of infections among athletes and officials, some Paralympians may have a higher risk of suffering more serious symptoms due to possible underlying health conditions.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said hours before the opening ceremony the host city will work hard toward realizing a “wonderful games” that are also “safe and secure.”
Still, the public is divided about whether it is appropriate to hold a major international event under current circumstances, especially given Tokyo and three nearby prefectures where Paralympic venues are located are all now reeling from record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases and are still under a state of emergency.
Tokyo’s daily infection figure has been regularly over 5,000 since the Olympics, roughly three times higher than seen before the games started on July 23.
Japan’s medical system is under immense pressure, while the number of people recuperating at home has been rising at a fast pace amid a shortage of hospital beds.
Due to the impact of the pandemic, athletes from Samoa, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu were unable to travel to Japan, putting the total number of participating nations and regions below the record of 164 set at the 2012 London Games.
The Paralympics will consist of 539 medal events across 22 sports. Taekwondo and badminton have been added to the program for the first time, while other sports include swimming, athletics, boccia and wheelchair tennis.
Under the COVID-19 “playbook” that must be followed by athletes, participants are required to be tested on a daily basis, in principle, and they must wear face masks and maintain social distancing including when they are in the athletes’ village.
IPC chief Andrew Parsons has stressed the games are the “most important” in history, believing they will help the voices of people with disabilities be heard as they have largely been “left behind” during the pandemic.
But the Paralympics are set to be mostly a TV-only event, after Japanese organizers and the IPC decided earlier this month to stage events behind closed doors at all venues, except for students involved in a government-supported educational initiative.
The games were expected to see up to about 172,000 students, mainly from schools in Tokyo, spectating in venues in person, but some municipalities decided at the last minute not to participate.
The Paralympic three agitos are pictured after being installed in Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront area on Aug. 20, 2021, ahead of the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games on Aug. 24. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo