TOKYO (AFP) – The sports programs at the Tokyo Olympics finally got under way on Wednesday, without spectators and a year late after the coronavirus pandemic forced the Games to be postponed.
As the action began in Japan two days before Friday’s opening ceremony, Brisbane won a vote of International Olympic Committee members to host the 2032 Summer Games, triggering celebrations and fireworks in the city.
Brisbane, which will become the third Australian city to organise the Olympics after Melbourne and Sydney, was chosen as the single candidate earlier in the bidding process.
“We know what it takes to deliver a successful Games,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said by live link from Canberra before the vote.
The decision means the hosts for the next three Summer Olympics are in place, with Paris holding the event in 2024 and Los Angeles organising the 2028 Games.
– Softball starts the sport –
In Japan, the very first event saw the host nation thrash Australia 8-1 in softball in disaster-hit Fukushima, a venue chosen to underline Tokyo’s original slogan as the “Recovery and Reconstruction Games” after the region was ravaged by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The game took place in an empty stadium as spectators are barred for most of the events at the Olympics following a surge in coronavirus cases in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.
The sound of the ball hitting the bat reverberated around the Azuma Stadium, with a backdrop of wooded hills.
Four competitors, including British shooter Amber Hill, the number one in the world in the women’s skeet, became the first to be ruled out of the Games after testing positive for coronavirus.
– Sweden pulls off first shock –
Great Britain and the USA both took the knee before their openers in women’s football, after a ban on protests was eased to allow political gestures pre-match.
Britain beat Chile, 2-0, but four-time champions USA, featuring former world player of the year Megan Rapinoe, suffered the first shock of the Games as they went down 3-0 to Sweden.
Stina Blackstenius scored twice and Lina Hurtig added a third goal to give 2016 silver medallists Sweden a dream start and inflict the Americans’ first defeat in 45 matches.
Despite the ban on spectators at most of the Olympic venues, some fans were able to watch the first events.
In Miyagi Prefecture, one of the first areas to still allow spectators, 59-year-old Hikari Nojiri and her husband Kazuhiko, 61, saw Brazil crush China 5-0 and Zambia play the Netherlands in the women’s football tournament.
“It was great. It was disappointing that there weren’t many fans there, but it was amazing to watch these top-quality players show their skills,” Hikari told AFP at Miyagi Stadium.
“This won’t happen again in my lifetime, so it’s a really precious opportunity.”
In the first drugs case of the Tokyo Games, Australian showjumper Jamie Kermond was provisionally suspended after testing positive for cocaine on June 26.
Under Australia’s anti-doping policy, he now has the opportunity to have his B-sample analysed. Australian reports said Kermond did not travel to Tokyo with the rest of the team.