Global Sports

Tokyo Paralympics open after year's virus delay

Filed on August 24, 2021

Members of the UAE team during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics.

Athletes light the Paralympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. (AP)

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony. (AP)

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito declared the Games open surrounded by banks of vacant seats at the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium

The Tokyo Paralympics opened with howling guitars and neon-streaked performers on Tuesday, with athletes ready to defy stereotypes and shatter records despite a year-long pandemic delay.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito declared the Games open surrounded by banks of vacant seats at the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, with virus rules banning spectators.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons hailed the athletes as “beacons of hope” who had put “blood, sweat and tears” into preparing for the event.

“Many doubted this day would happen, many thought it impossible, but thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative sports event on Earth is about to begin,” he said.

The pared-down ceremony took place in front of around 800 VIPs and officials, but there was a celebratory mood as 162 teams enjoyed their long-awaited moment in the global spotlight.

The ceremony took “We Have Wings” as its concept, creating a mini “airport” on the stadium field. The segment told the story of a one-winged plane that takes to the skies, ending in a wild crescendo featuring musicians and dancers with disabilities.

Three Japanese para-athletes — wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji, boccia player Shunsuke Uchida, and powerlifter Karin Morisaki — then combined to light the flame.

A reduced parade of roughly 3,400 Paralympians and team officials entered the stadium, wearing masks but waving and dancing after the disappointment of the postponement and worries about a potential cancellation.

A volunteer carried Afghanistan’s flag into the stadium as a “sign of solidarity” with athletes from the country, one of 21 nations unable to compete at the Games.

The 13-day Paralympics, with 539 gold medals up for grabs across 22 sports, arrive two weeks after the close of an Olympics that also took place almost entirely behind closed doors over virus fears.

“Change starts with sport. And from tomorrow on, Paralympic athletes start once again to change to world,” Parsons said.

Paralympic athletes will be subject to the same rules as their Olympic counterparts — including daily testing and limits on their movement.

The run-up to the Games has been fraught, with polling for months showing the Japanese were opposed to hosting them this summer.

“I know this is a difficult time, but the athletes came to Japan despite the risks,” said 41-year-old Haruyo Yamamoto.

“Since we’re hosting the Games, I want them to perform at their best.”

Paralympic chiefs are hoping the mood will shift when the sporting action begins on Wednesday, with over 4,400 athletes itching to get started.

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