In manner most fitting, the Tokyo Paralympics began here on Tuesday with the central theme of ‘We Have Wings’ in a colourful opening ceremony, depicting the para athletes’ endeavour to fly high in the face of unimaginable adversities. At times tugging at the heartstrings, the otherwise joyous and colourful opening ceremony — the main character of which was a ‘little one-winged plane’ — encapsulated the idea that every human being has its own wings, and by mustering courage and spreading them wide, it can go anywhere irrespective of which way the wind blows.
Emperor Naruhito declared the Games open in front of a near-empty stadium before the Paralympic flag was carried into the National Stadium. International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said the organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics can deliver a “safe” Games.
“I cannot believe we are finally here,” said Parsons. “Many doubted this day would happen, many thought it was impossible. Thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative event is happening.
“Organisers never lost faith and have worked tirelessly along with the Japanese Government.” Prior to that, the ceremony paid homage to the resilience of para athletes while giving the message of moving forward amid the unrelenting devastation being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Paralympics have returned to Tokyo for the first time in 57 years, making the Japanese capital the first ever city to host the Games twice.
The ceremony was set in a ‘Para Airport’ — a symbol of diversity and inclusion — and began with a video that depicted the strength of para athletes. In the video, a gentle breeze turned into a huge gust of wind that reached the stadium and swept through the field of play.
Following this, a group of crew members, who work at the airport, began a countdown at the end of which fireworks lit up the night sky to celebrate the start of the Games. IPC chief Parsons and Naruhito were welcomed to the stadium following which the Japanese flag was carried to the stage by six individuals including Kaori Icho, four-times Olympic freestyle wrestling champion and Takumi Astani, a rescue worker. Sombre music played in the background.
After introducing the 22 sports and events at Tokyo 2020, a colourful line of light appeared at the end of the first video, which then transformed into the runway of the Para Airport. Giant propellers and balloons surrounded the outer stage, forming the Agitos symbol of the Paralympics.
After the Parade of Nations came the ‘little one-winged plane’ – performed by young 13-year-old wheelchair-bound Yui Wago, who had never acted before. The little one-winged plane does not believe she can fly. But inspired by the others around her — a group of vehicles who are unlike anyone she has ever met before including a huge, dazzling truck and his companions — she musters enough courage and confidence and returns to Para Airport, where she heads towards the runway in the darkness alone. The crew join her, begin clapping to a beat and cheer her on. Before long, she takes off into the night sky, her wing shining brightly.
Meanwhile, during the Parade of Nations, catching everyone’s attention, a guide dog helped lead the Israeli team out. Tek Chand, who will compete in shot put, led the Indian contingent out during the opening ceremony after replacing high-jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu as the flag bearer at the last minute after the latter came in close contact of a COVID positive person during his flight to Tokyo.
Apart from Tek Chand, others in the opening included chef de mission Gursharan Singh, deputy chef de mission Arhan Bagati, the contingent’s other administrative staff and one coach, Satyanarayana. This edition of the showpiece will feature an unprecedented 4403 athletes.
The previous record was 4328 which was set at the Rio 2016 Games. The Tokyo edition will have 2550 male athletes and 1853 female athletes vying for the top honours. India is being represented by its largest ever delegation of 54 athletes in competitions spread across 12 days. During the Parade of the Nations in which the Refuge Paralympics team entered first, Afghanistan’s flag with the absent team got a massive round of applause from the media and workers in the largely empty stadium, showing solidarity with a nation in turmoil.
The two athletes who were to represent Afghanistan — Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli — were forced to withdraw after the collapse of the government and the return of the Taliban to power. Meanwhile, performers in bright costumes danced their way through, invoking the Japanese tradition of karakuri.
There was also pole dancing in the middle of the stage, with all other performers surrounding pole dancing world champion Eri Kamimoto.