— Published 23 July 2021

The Games are launched, Tokyo can breathe


Finally. With 364 days of delay on the announced schedule, the Tokyo Games started on Friday, July 23rd, at the Olympic Stadium. Postponed, then threatened to be cancelled, contested and confined, the Olympic event held on until the end. The Japanese held on to it without giving in to the pressure of the scientific world, the international media and a reluctant, then frankly hostile, national public opinion.

History will tell later, perhaps, if these Games of the 32nd Olympiad have brought the “light at the end of the tunnel” promised by Thomas Bach, the IOC President, since last year. When looking at the last figures recorded in the Japanese capital – 1,359 COVID-19 cases on Friday, 1,979 the day before – the doubt is allowed and the path remains long.

But the opening ceremony, organized in a stadium filled with a thousand officials and guests, plus a solid crowd of 3,000 journalists and broadcasters, showed that it was possible to gather athletes from more than 200 countries without causing a sanitary earthquake. For this reason, at least, the Tokyo Games deserve to go down in history.

With an almost empty stadium, besides some parts of the stands, the opening ceremony was announced as a sad prerequisite. It could have turned into a disaster. But the Japanese, and even more so the athletes, made it what it should never have ceased to be: a nice evening, good-natured and friendly. The pomp and the grandiloquence remained at the door. Emotion showed up when it was necessary, neither too much nor too little. The music, pushed a notch higher than usual, quickly made us forget the silence of the rows.

The delegations’ parade, stretched out for more than two hours despite the fact that their number was sometimes too small, offered scenes that seemed unimaginable a few days ago. A Kyrgyzstan team which seemed to have left its masks who knows where. Athletes sweeping social distancing rules aside without scruples. A joyful mess. A festive atmosphere. The authors of the manuals for accredited participants, the now famous “playbooks” that needed to be memorized not to risk an exclusion, must have choked with horror.

“Finally, we are all here together”, insisted Thomas Bach in his speech, pronounced on a simple wooden platform, in the middle of the athletes. Then he went on to thank the volunteers, the “best ambassadors of Japan”.

By choosing to propose a humble and simplified opening, without the slightest excess, the Japanese set the tone. For one evening, they let a wind of freshness blow the cover of the pandemic out of the stadium. The Tokyo Games will not change the course of the sanitary crisis. They will not defeat the virus. But for a few hours, on Friday, July 23rd, they offered the world another common denominator than COVID-19. The Japanese opened their borders. They did not have to. The risk was immense, but their merit is even greater. Let’s make way for the athletes.