Japan welcomes Paralympians in spectacular fashion
TOKYO,. Hosts Japan, as expected, put on another spectacular opening ceremony in conjunction with the 16th Paralympic Games – a mere 16 days after the end of a superb Olympic Games here.
Despite being held in a near-empty Olympic Stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Land of the Rising Sun still managed to welcome the athletes in a sparkling ceremony that highlighted the strength of this group of extraordinary people.
Aptly titled ‘We Have Wings’, the ceremony kicked off in style, which saw a ‘para airport’ being set up at the centre of the stadium.
The ‘para airport’ resembled a venue where all athletes could meet under one hub, followed by a dance show featuring various performances before fireworks lit up the sky.
Then came one of the ceremony’s major draws, the Parade of Athletes, as the delegates were introduced in alphabetical order – Japanese style, of course.
The Refugee Paralympic Team were the first group to troop into the stadium, while the host nation’s athletes received the loudest cheers of the night when they entered the venue last.
A slight drizzle in the middle of the show failed to dampen the whole party mood as the celebration continued with a colourful performances, led by the ‘Little One-Winged Plane’ scene played by wheelchair-bound Wago Yui, who dreams of taking to the sky, in a continuation of the ‘para airport’ concept earlier, accompanied by a wonderful lighting and musical performances.
In an inspiring speech, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons applauded the resilience of the para athletes and commended Japan for going ahead with the Games amidst the pandemic, apart from promoting #WeThe15, the biggest-ever human rights campaign in history with the goal of ending discrimination against the 1.2 billion people with disabilities.
The Games were then declared open by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito before the official Paralympic flag was hoisted. Then, two of the host country’s athletes – former world number one wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda and Rie Urata (goalball) – together with Japan swimming coach Yumiko Taniguchi and wheelchair fencing judge Noboyuki Azuma took the Games’ oath.
The torch then made its way into the stadium, carried by a number of former Japanese Paralympians, including two-times alpine skiing champion Kuniko Obinata and swimming great Mayumi Narita, as well as the country’s frontliners.
The torch was then passed to 2016 Rio bronze medallist Yui Kamiji (wheelchair tennis), Shunsuke Uchida (boccia) and Karin Morisaki (powerlifting), who had the honour of lighting the cauldron, which will stay ablaze until the end of the Games on Sept 5.
The Malaysian contingent of 10 athletes and officials were the 139th nation to march into the stadium, led by powerlifting ace Bonnie Bunyau Gustin and Siti Nooriasah Mohamad Ariffin (athletics) as the flag bearers.
2016 Rio gold medallist Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli (athletics); 2019 world champion S. Suresh (archery), 2017 Asean Para Games gold medallist Abu Samah Borhan (wheelchair tennis), chef de mission Datuk Seri Megat D Shahriman Zaharudin, two medical officers and two officials also took part in the opening ceremony march past.
The male athletes and officials were seen marching into the stadium clad in the outfit of legendary Malay warrior Hang Tuah, which bore the striking colours of the Jalur Gemilang and was complemented by the sampin and tanjak (headgear), with traditional songket flower motifs.
The women athletes and an official wore an elegant yet modern white baju kurung and a blue shawl, along with ‘dokoh’ accessory that epitomised the richness of Malaysia’s culture.
A total of 4,403 athletes from 162 countries will be competing in 22 sports in the Tokyo Paralympics and Tokyo, thus, becomes the first city to host the Paralympic Games twice after last hosting it in 1964.