A part of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, July 23, 2021. A part of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, July 23, 2021.  

UN hails Olympic spirit despite pandemic

The United Nations chief says the Olympic spirit “inspires and unifies us in troubled times”.

By Robin Gomes

China on Saturday claimed the first gold medal of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, after the world’s greatest sporting spectacle got off to a sobering start at the National Stadium Friday evening.  Yang Qian won the first gold medal, setting an Olympic record in the women's 10-meter air rifle event. 

The Olympics and pandemic

The opening ceremony revealed an uneasy balance between the greatest show in sports and the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic that still continues to plague and toll lives around the world for more than 16 months since its outbreak. 

Delayed by a year because of the pandemic, the 32nd Olympic Games is the first time that the sporting event has been postponed in its 124-year history.  The inauguration of the July 23 to August 8 games permitted fewer than 1,000 spectators in the stands, among whom were the Japanese Emperor Naruhito and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, both wearing masks. 

More than 11,300 athletes from 207 nations are competing in 339 events of 33 sports, all looking to come home with a coveted Olympic medal. There is also a team of refugee athletes competing under the Olympic flag.

Even before the opening ceremony, a number of infections have emerged in Tokyo involving athletes and other people involved with the Games.  Despite the subdued spirit, the Olympics Games mark a coming together of the world, with an audience of hundreds of thousands around the globe expected to tune in together to watch the various events of the sporting spectacle. 

The Olympic spirit

The United Nations hailed the athletes and thanked the people of Japan for hosting the games. In a video message, on the occasion of Friday’s opening ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the Olympic spirit brings out humanity’s best: teamwork and solidarity.

He also said the Olympic spirit “inspires and unifies us in troubled times. Noting that while many are mourning the loss of their loved ones to the pandemic, he commended the great determination of every athlete in Tokyo in overcoming enormous obstacles.   

“If we bring that same energy to our global challenges,” Guterres said, “we can achieve anything.” “Peace. A clean, green, thriving planet. A better, more equal world — rooted in supporting the most vulnerable and leaving no one behind.”  The UN chief urged the international community to “race together to that future”. “The United Nations is honoured to be your teammate every step of the way,” he assured. 

Olympic Truce

Since the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the modern Olympics Games have also been a time of Olympic Truce, an initiative adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.  The ceasefire calls for the laying down of arms across the world and for fighting to stop during the period of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Olympic Truce runs through September 12, seven days after the Paralympics closing ceremony. In a message for the occasion, Guterres called on all parties to conflict to observe the Olympic Truce and build on it in the weeks and months after the games are over.

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24 July 2021, 15:28