Cardboard cut-outs of fans dampens the spirits at Olympics opening
A mass of people gathered in Harajuku, the main shopping district in Tokyo, to protest, Kyodo News via AP

All the pomp and pageantry were present at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Tokyo. The Parade of Nations was a sight to see, the singing of all the national anthems was lovely, and the lighting of the Olympic torch—a burst of white-hot flames and golden embers, was breathtaking. And despite all that, the public reception was lukewarm at best.

No fans were allowed into the massive stadium—due to a surge of Covid-19 in Japan—and the cardboard cut-outs filling in the seats gave off a sense of false reality.

With no cheers or applause drowning out the noise outside the stadium walls, it was possible to hear the hundreds of demonstrators—who showed up anyway—shouting in the streets during the whole show, demanding an end to the Olympic Games.

The crowd spanned almost the entirety of the stadium Friday night, July 23, with steel barricades and rows of police officers separating them and the stadium gates. Inside the stadium, a short moment of silence honoring the lives lost due to Covid-19 accompanied the chanting of “Cancel the Olympics! Save Lives!” echoing through Tokyo streets.

“It’s unbelievable that the Olympics are happening in this pandemic situation,” said protester Kumiko Sudo, 50, when interviewed by the Washington Post. 

The situation has become so tense and political several large Japanese sponsors of the Games have distanced themselves from the event, including Toyota, which declined to run any TV ads during the televised broadcast in the country.

The demonstration, which began before the ceremony, lasted for over two hours and police seemed to engage in some minor, non-violent confrontations with demonstrators while attempting to keep the intersections clear.

It was also an audible reminder of the massive public opposition to the Tokyo Olympics as Japan struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Police blocked the group from entering the Olympic Stadium. Shuji Kajiyama/AP

In a poll conducted by Kyodo News last weekend, 87 percent of the respondents expressed concerns over hosting the Olympics during a pandemic, and 31.2 percent supported canceling the Games.

As of Sunday, July 25, Japan has reported 5,035 new cases of Covid-19, and its seven-day average sits at 4,192 new infections. Tokyo reported 1,1763 new cases out of the 5k daily Sunday total.

To top it all off, the Games opened in Japan beset by excessive heat and now face the arrival of a Typhoon Tuesday morning, likely disrupting some scheduled events.

And just like the concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic were dismissed by the Tokyo Olympic Games organizing committee, so too are the weather-related concerns.

“It is a tropical storm of three grade out of five, so you shouldn’t be too much worried about that, but it is a typhoon in Japan interpretation,” said Tokyo Games spokesperson Masa Takaya. “This is the weakest category, but this is still a typhoon, so we should not be too optimistic about the impact of the course.”

In preparation for the possible disruptions, officials made changes to the archery schedule.

The extreme weather is just another hurdle for Olympic organizers during these troubled games, already delayed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and casts further doubt on the candidness of Japanese officials when it comes to accurately describe the ever-changing health and weather situations in the country.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.