Friday, September 24, 2021

Tokyo winds up Olympics with fireworks and subdued closing ceremony

The closing ceremony in Tokyo was as restrained as the Games, held without spectators due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Tokyo doused its Olympic flame on Sunday in a closing ceremony without spectators, bringing to a subdued end a Games transformed by the global pandemic, and yet which managed to produce some dazzling sport.

After postponing the Tokyo 2020 Games for a year, organisers said the event would serve as a symbol of world triumph over the pandemic.

But with strict pandemic countermeasures and as Covid-19 variants have surged around the world, the Olympics fell short of the triumph and financial windfall Japan had wanted, Al Jazeera reports.

Japan is now burdened with a US$15 billion bill, double what it initially expected, and with no tourist boom.

The closing ceremony, saw the stadium transformed into a park with grass, buskers and BMX riders, to enable visiting athletes to “experience Tokyo”, organisers said, in a poignant reminder of the many restrictions visitors underwent at the games.

The president of the International Olympic Committee thanked the Japanese people.

“For the first time since the pandemic began, the entire world came together,” Thomas Bach said. “Nobody has ever organised a postponed games before.”

Public anger over the pandemic response and a slow-to-start vaccine rollout have badly damaged Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s standing. Public opinion polls showed most Japanese opposed holding the games during the pandemic.

Contrary to public pessimism, organisers appear to have prevented the Games from descending into a Covid-19 super-spreader event, a notable achievement given that some 50,000 people came together amid the pandemic.

While the isolation bubble – the set of venues and hotels to which Olympic visitors were largely confined – appeared to hold, elsewhere Covid-19 remained on the rampage.

Fuelled by the Delta variant, daily infections spiked to more than 5,000 for the first time in Tokyo, threatening to overwhelm its hospitals.

Japan’s record medal haul also helped to take out some of the sting for the public. The US finished top of the tally with 39 gold medals, one more than rivals China at 38 and Japan at 27.

After five years of intense preparations for the athletes, some of them stretched out on the grass in the stadium. Many just relaxed as they watched fireworks light up the Tokyo sky.

Paris is the venue for the next Olympics and French President Emmanuel Macron was filmed on the top floor of the Eiffel Tower reciting the newly updated Olympic slogan “higher, faster, stronger, together”.

The evening concluded at the stadium in Tokyo with a final flurry of fireworks and the word “Arigato” – the Japanese word for thank you – lighting up the night sky.

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