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The ball of the sporting events of the Tokyo Olympics opened on Wednesday with softball and football. Footballers were allowed to kneel down to denounce racism, while the boss of the WHO recalled that the race against Covid-19 was still not won.
Two rooms, two atmospheres: while the first sporting events of the Tokyo Olympics started on Wednesday, July 21, the boss of the World Health Organization recalled that “the race against the virus” was still not won.
Politics has made its entry into Olympism with, as authorized the day before by the IOC, the knee to the ground of British and Chilean footballers before their match in the afternoon, to denounce racism.
These Olympics will be decidedly out of the ordinary: in a cathedral silence because of the closed session, only interrupted by some encouragement from her partners, the Japanese Yukiko Ueno launched at 9 am local (midnight GMT) the Games and the first ball of the match of softball against Australia in Fukushima.
A first breath of fresh air for these Olympics, postponed for a year for health reasons, which will be played under strict conditions, two days before the traditional official opening ceremony, Friday evening.
The kickoff of this softball game (women’s version of baseball), from Fukushima – whose region was seriously affected by the nuclear accident of March 2011 following a powerful earthquake and a deadly tsunami – was to be the symbol strong of these “Reconstruction Games”: that was the formula used in 2013, when these Games were awarded to the Japanese capital.
But since then, the Covid-19 has been there. And at the very moment of this first launch, 300 km south in Tokyo, the speech of the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, invited to speak in front of the 38e session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), recalled that these XXXIIe Summer Olympics would rather be “the Games of the pandemic”.
Olympic values to “triumph over the pandemic”
“We are not in a race against each other, we are in a race against the virus”, declared the director general of the UN agency, in front of the members of the IOC gathered in the Japanese capital for their 138e session.
“To succeed in these Olympics, you need speed, strength and skill, but also determination, dedication and discipline,” he said, calling on the world to show same qualities to “triumph over the pandemic”.
While Covid-19 has already claimed more than four million lives, “we are at the first stage of a new wave of infections and deaths”, and “100,000 more people will lose their lives by the extinction of the Olympic flame on August 8, “he insisted.
“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to put an end to it. All this is in our hands,” he said, calling for the administration of vaccines to be speeded up and above all to share the doses more equitably between countries.
Knee Down in Sapporo
In Japan, the daily results of tests carried out since 1er July on people working on the Games (athletes, managers, media) showed 79 positive cases on Wednesday, out of more than 20,000 people tested, 8 of which concern athletes.
Among the unfortunate, a Chilean taekwondoist and a Dutch skateboarder, the first sportswomen in Japan to have to give up the Olympics.
In the afternoon, the first football matches allowed politics to make a timid entry into the Olympic world. The British and Chilean footballers dropped to one knee in Sapporo on Wednesday ahead of their match, the first in the Olympic tournament at the Tokyo Games, in a sign of opposition to racism.
This gesture came the day after the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow athletes to express their opinions during the Games until the start of the events. They now have the right to kneel down, express their opinions in the media and on social networks or wear inscriptions on their clothes at press conferences.
On the green rectangle, the matches gave birth to a first big surprise, with the heavy defeat of the Americans against Sweden (3-0), despite the entry into play of Megan Rapinoe and a series of 44 matches without a setback. These extraordinary Games have indeed started.