Tokyo 2020 must deliver on opening ceremony message of solidarity and unity

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

If an Olympics takes place but no one is allowed to watch it, does it actually take place?

Okay, perhaps not the best philosophical opener – especially given billions around the world will be tuning into Tokyo 2020 on their televisions, and approximately 1,000 dignitaries and delegates were in attendance for Friday's opening ceremony in Tokyo.

But the fact remains these Games, postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, are the Olympics that many did not want.

A Games like no other this may be, but certainly not for any celebratory reasons. There has been little clamour or fanfare in Japan for an event many in the country fear could act as a COVID-19 superspreader with athletes, coaches, officials and media flocking to the capital in their droves.

Right now, the usually blindingly bright streets of Tokyo should be flocked with international fans exploring this beautiful city, finding their bearings and preparing for the grandest sporting show on earth.

Of course, the reality could scarcely be different. Domestic spectators are not allowed into Tokyo venues let alone those wishing to travel from around the globe, while athletes are protected in bubbles, shipped from venue to venue to try and limit infections in a city still under a state of emergency imposed on July 12.

Yet, here we are. Faster, higher, stronger and now – thanks to an addition to the Olympics' well-known slogan – together. The Games have, belatedly, begun.

And with them is a feeling the world is on tenterhooks. It feels especially crucial that the next fortnight run without major incident, to unite, to inspire and to bring much-needed hope amid a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic.

Reminders of what we've all been through were constant throughout an opening ceremony that mixed poignancy with a memorable demonstration of Japanese culture.

A beautiful sequence early in proceedings showcased a runner on the treadmill and a rower on the machine, depicting the way athletes had to train in solitary conditions during the height of lockdowns, adapting like everyone else to the restrictions imposed on all our lives – while the movement of dancers represented the advancements in technology enabling us all to stay connected.

There was an emotional moment of silence and a period of reflection for the hardship and loss experienced for over a year and a half, not to mention the fact that representatives of each of the over 200 nations and IOC Refugee Olympic Team were all wearing facemasks.

But there was a message of hope too, and a belief these Games can offer an example of how to move forward and unite a world divided by COVID-19.

IOC president Thomas Bach was as defiant as ever as he preached a message of solidarity during his address.

"We are standing in solidarity to make the Olympic Games happen, and to enable all of you dear athletes, and from all sports to take part in the Olympic games," he said. 

"This solidarity fuels our ambitions to make the world a better place through sport. Only through solidarity can we be here tonight. Without solidarity there is no peace.

"This feeling of togetherness this is the light at the end of the dark tunnel, the pandemic forced us apart, to keep our distance from each other, to stay away even from our loved ones. This separation made this tunnel so dark."

How we all so desperately want that last message to be true. How we all truly buy into Tokyo 2020's key concepts of moving forward, united by emotion, and for a more diverse future.

And it was easy to get caught up in the belief this can be achieved. Not least because – even in lieu of the usual roar that would meet their arrival – of the obvious joy for the hordes of athletes as they made their way across Tokyo's Olympic Stadium ready to fulfil a delayed dream, ready finally to perform in front of the world for a golden prize after years of gruelling graft and sacrifices in a quest to perform at the pinnacle of sport.

There was kabuki dancing, immense choreography, sparkling fireworks and glorious illuminations lit up by 1,824 drones. Many even braved the stifling heat and humidity to try and sneak a look inside the stadium in perhaps a sign that the stance towards the Games has softened.

But amid the hope came a stark reality. Reports that protestors could be heard chanting angrily from those inside the stadium offered a blunt reminder that there is significant opposition to these Games taking place.

Bach's dream of unity and solidarity is one we can all share. But make no mistake, this is a Games like no other and Tokyo 2020 must deliver on its promise.

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    The younger Klitschko was the first eastern European to lift a heavyweight title in the 21st century when he twice floored Chris Byrd on the way to a unanimous decision to win the WBO belt in October 2000. Byrd became champion in his previous fight when, way down on the cards, Vitali withdrew on his stool due to a shoulder injury. It meant Vitali was returning a favour against Sanders, who demolished Wladimir over two harrowing rounds in March 2003.

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    Each of his two stints as WBA ruler began with prophetically forgettable points wins over John Ruiz and after a 2008 loss to a pot-shotting David Haye he walked away to a varied post-fight career. Like Klitschko he entered politics, winning election to the State Duma in Russia's 2011 parliamentary election. He also became an unlikely face of children's television in his homeland, presenting the long-running "Good Night, Little Ones!".

    SIARHEI LIAKHOVICH

    Liakhovich's period reign as WBO champion lasted seven months. The Belarusian won a unanimous decision win over Brewster in April 2006, despite taking a knee in the seventh. He was up on the cards when Shannon Briggs dramatically knocked him through the ropes during the closing seconds of his first defence. Briggs was the last American to get his hands on any portion of the heavyweight title before Wilder's WBC reign began in 2015. Two years earlier, the "Bronze Bomber" left Liakhovich quivering on the canvas after a terrifying first-round KO.

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    Three months before Briggs' late show against Liakhovich, Maskaev battered one-time Lewis conqueror Hasim Rahman to defeat inside the final minute of their August 2006 rematch in Las Vegas. A product of the Soviet amateur system, Maskaev based himself in the US for the majority of his professional career. He was 37 by the time he ripped the WBC crown from Rahman and, after a successful defence against Okello Peter in Moscow, the Kazakh-born fighter was knocked out by Samuel Peter - the "Nigerian Nightmare" who was himself stopped by a returning Vitali Klitschko next time out.

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