The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics finally got underway with a watered-down opening ceremony at a spectator-less Olympic Stadium in the Japanese capital on Friday. The Games, one of the most trobuled in modern history after being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will see the 205 contingents in the Parade of Nations, India being the 21st. 

As instructed by the Olympic Charter, the proceedings will combine a formal and ceremonial opening, including welcome speeches, hoisting of the flags and the parade of athletes. An artistic show displaying the culture of Japan is also expected to enthrall the audience. The ceremony will take place before empty stands and with the city in a state of emergency.

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Six officials and 19 athletes will be seen representing India in the opening ceremony. Bhavani Devi (fencing), Sajan Prakash (swimming), Pranati Nayak (gymnastics) and Ankita Raina (Tennis). are some prominent Indian athletes to be present. Boxer Mary Kom and Indian Hockey captain Manpreet Singh will be India’s flagbearers at the opening ceremony. 

Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict COVID protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.

Polls have consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the Games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.

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But there was plenty of enthusiasm outside the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium in the hours before the ceremony, as hundreds of people gathered hoping to soak up the atmosphere and watch the fireworks expected during the extravaganza.

Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the 8:00 pm (1100 GMT) to grab a spot.

“We’re here for the atmosphere, the light-up and the fireworks,” she told AFP, as people snapped selfies in front of the Olympic rings nearby.

“Until now it didn’t feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics!”

Traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games, featuring the parade of nations and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, Tokyo’s opening ceremony will be drastically pared back.

Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the stadium.

Most world leaders have opted to stay away, though US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron — whose country will host the 2024 Paris Olympics — will attend96 along with Japan’s Emperor Naruhito.

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But in a sign of how divisive the Games remain, several top sponsors including Toyota and Panasonic will not be sending executives.

A few hundred protestors demonstrated against the Games on Friday morning near the Tokyo government building where Governor Yuriko Koike welcomed the Olympic flame.

“Even though the pandemic continues, we will hold a safe and secure Games,” Koike said.

“We are determine to see it through. Today is the first step towards that.”

Tokyo is battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures that means bars and restaurants must shut by 8:00 pm and cannot sell alcohol.

But Olympic officials have put a brave face on the unusual circumstances, with IOC chief Bach insisting cancellation was never on the table.

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“Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds,” he said this week. “We had doubts every day. There were sleepless nights.

“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel. Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes… we did it for the athletes.”

There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.

The pandemic has not been the only hiccup in preparations though, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

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The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony’s director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video from 1998.

Back in the sporting arenas, a new generation of Olympic stars are looking to shine after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

US swimmer Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals, and in track and field, 400 metre hurdlers Karsten Warholm of Norway and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin are among those hoping to emerge as household names.

Gymnastics meanwhile will see Simone Biles attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.

New Olympic sports will also be on display in Tokyo, with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all making their debut.