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Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Slimmed-down opening ceremony reflects pandemic-hit Tokyo Games

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(Last Updated On: July 23, 2021)

The Tokyo Olympics opened on Friday afternoon with a ceremony reflecting a Games like no other, walking a fine line between celebrating the feats of the world’s best athletes while acknowledging the global hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported.

Postponed for a year, organisers were forced to take the unprecedented step of holding the Games without fans as the pandemic continues to take lives around the world.

Even the opening ceremony, normally a star-studded display teeming with celebrities, was attended by fewer than 1,000 people.

Regardless, it marks a coming together of the world, with an audience of hundreds of millions around the globe and at various stages of the pandemic expected to tune into together to watch the start of the greatest show in sport.

When Tokyo was picked as Games host in 2013, crowds screamed themselves hoarse with joy but in 2020 the coronavirus struck, with lockdowns forcing the unprecedented postponement only four months before the Games were supposed to open, while scandals and problems plagued preparations.

The opening took place without the usual mass choreography, huge props and the cornucopia of dancers, actors and lights associated with past celebrations.

A vastly smaller number of athletes also marched in the teams’ parade, with many planning to fly in just before their competitions and leave shortly after to avoid infections.

Only 15 global leaders are in attendance, along with Japanese Emperor Naruhito, who will formally open the Games as his grandfather Hirohito did in 1964, and U.S. First Lady Jill Biden.

The Games run until August 8.

About 11,000 athletes from 204 national Olympic committees are expected, including a team of refugee athletes. Afghanistan is represented by five athletes and another three Afghans are part of the refugee team.

Meanwhile, Dr Ehsanullah Bayat, Chairman of Afghan Wireless Communication Company, Ariana Television Network, Ariana News and Bayat Power, attended the opening ceremony in Tokyo as a special guest.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Afghan Paralympian sparks ‘joy’ with Tokyo debut

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(Last Updated On: September 1, 2021)

When Afghan Paralympian Hossain Rasouli stepped onto the Tokyo track on Tuesday morning after escaping Taliban-held Kabul, fellow long jumper Roderick Townsend didn’t feel rivalry but “joy”.

The American did not even know Rasouli was competing in the men’s T47 long jump final until he saw 13 names on the start list rather than the usual 12, AFP reported.

Rasouli had arrived in Tokyo last Saturday, too late to compete in his favoured T47 100m event, after catching a top-secret flight from Paris one week after being evacuated from Kabul.

So instead he entered the long jump final, finishing last but symbolising for Townsend “so much about the Paralympic Games and what it means and what it stands for”.

“With everything going on right now, I couldn’t help but feel joy for him,” said Townsend, who took silver in the event with a jump of 7.43m, AFP reported.

“We get so caught up in our personal lives, and I’m here complaining about a silver medal and we have somebody making their way across the world to be able to do something that we all love to do.”

Rasouli arrived in Tokyo with Afghan team-mate Zakia Khudadadi on Saturday, after leaving their Taliban-controlled homeland a week earlier in what Games chiefs called a “major global operation”.

The pair spent a week in Paris at a French sports ministry training centre following their evacuation from Kabul.

Officials initially appeared to rule out the possibility of the athletes coming to Tokyo.

But Rasouli, whose left hand was amputated after a mine explosion, finally made the country’s belated first appearance at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday morning.

Emerging from the athletes’ entrance with a wave to the team officials dotted around the spectator-free Olympic Stadium, he then pointed towards the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee logo on his white vest.

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Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Belarussian sprinter opens up about what made her seek asylum

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(Last Updated On: August 6, 2021)

Olympic sprinter from Belarus, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, decided to defect as she was being driven to a Tokyo airport because her grandmother told her that it wasn’t safe to return home.

In an exclusive interview with Reuters in Warsaw, she said her family feared she would be sent to a psychiatric ward if she went back to Belarus, and that her grandmother had called her to tell her not to return.

“I am not one of those people who are scared. I am always staying for the truth. I respect myself. I respect my work.”

“They were using enigmas, they used strange expressions about a net that I would get tangled in, that it would lead to inevitable consequences which would cause other people being fired and that it would be not good for you to. There were no direct threats. But I could understand it.”

The 24-year-old athlete caused a furore on Sunday when she said coaches angry at her criticism had ordered her to fly home from Tokyo. After seeking protection from Japanese police, she flew on Wednesday to Poland instead of Belarus.

Poland, which has long been critical of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and harbored many activists from Belarus, has granted Tsimanouskaya and her husband humanitarian visas but her grandmother remains there.

“Grandmother called me when they were already driving me to the airport,” the athlete said. “Literally, I had some 10 seconds. She called me, all that she told me was: ‘Please do not come back to Belarus, it’s not safe.”

Tsimanouskaya’s saga, reminiscent of Cold War sporting defections, threatens to further isolate Lukashenko, who is under Western sanctions after a crackdown on opponents since last year, Reuters reported.

The sprinter, who had criticized negligence by her team coaches, spent two nights in Poland’s embassy in Japan before flying out to Vienna and then Warsaw on Wednesday.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) had said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her emotional and psychological state. It did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment on Thursday.

The International Olympic Committee has started an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case and said it would hear from the two Belarusian officials allegedly involved.

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Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

IOC awaiting report on Belarusian’s dash for refugee status

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(Last Updated On: August 3, 2021)

The IOC said on Tuesday it was waiting for a report later in the day from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee on the case of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, after launching an investigation into the incident that has rocked the Games.

The athlete took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday, a day after refusing her team’s orders to board a flight home from the Olympic Games. Warsaw has offered her a humanitarian visa, Reuters reported.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told reporters the body had spoken to the athlete twice on Monday, that she was in a safe, secure place, and that the IOC needed to know all the facts before taking further action.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, had been due to compete in the women’s 200 metre heats on Monday but said that on Sunday she was taken out of her room in the athletes’ village and driven to the airport to board a flight home after criticising team officials.

The incident has focussed attention on Belarus, where police have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests triggered by an election last year which the opposition says was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power, Reuters reported.

“We have also now contacted the NOC of Poland. In terms of what the IOC can for her future we have talked to them with regard to her sport, after her arrival in Warsaw if that is indeed where she chooses to end up,” Adams said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted Belarus’ attempt to send Tsimanouskaya home.

“Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” Blinken wrote on Twitter late on Monday.

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