For a Games billed as the most inclusive and diverse on record, one element of Friday’s opening ceremony stood out for many Japanese: Olympic boss Thomas Bach spoke for 13 minutes, about twice as long as his Japanese female host, Seiko Hashimoto.
Bach’s speech, which drew on familiar themes of peace, solidarity and gratitude for overcoming the coronavirus hardships, immediately drew ire on Twitter and in traditional Japanese media.
“From tomorrow, we’ll give Bach the nickname ‘the guy who gives long speeches’,” said user @Riko_Murai in a tweet reposted 7,730 times and liked by more than 20,000 people.
User @SatoHaruhiko said, “The length of the speeches: Seiko Hashimoto – 6.5 minutes; Bach – 13 minutes; the Emperor – 13 seconds.” The post was retweeted close to 9,000 times.
The reaction underscored the groundswell of opposition from the coronavirus-fatigued Japanese to the Olympics amid concerns in the largely unvaccinated nation that the Games could become a super-spreader event.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Bach, both masked, clapped the athletes after bowing to each other before sitting down socially distanced.
The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) addressed the athletes in front of a nearly empty stadium, in an opening shorn of glitz and overshadowed by the pandemic. read more
The IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organisers did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
On Monday, Bach was criticised for attending a swanky welcome party with nearly 40 guests at a time when Tokyo is enduring another state of emergency. Restaurants close at 8 p.m. and are requested not to serve alcohol to discourage large gatherings.
Later in the week, his right-hand man at the IOC, John Coates, drew allegations of misogyny when he told the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in an awkward exchange that she needed to attend the opening ceremony.
Still, the event made important gestures towards diversity. Most countries were represented by male and female flagbearers in an Olympic first, and the oath for the first time highlighted inclusion, non-discrimination and equality.
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