Naomi Osaka lights flame to fire Olympics

Naomi Osaka carries the torch before lighting the cauldron in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.
Naomi Osaka carries the torch before lighting the cauldron in Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.

Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has ignited the cauldron in Tokyo to launch the Olympic Games at the end of a dignified, subdued opening ceremony.

The Games were opened on Friday with organisers paying tribute to medical workers while athletes from across the world paraded into an almost empty stadium, their smiles hidden behind masks.

Normally a star-studded festival teeming with celebrities, the ceremony was shorn of its glitz, with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, strict social distancing rules and signs calling on spectators to "be quiet around the venue" on Friday.

The organisers also sent the traditional message of peace as global pop stars sang John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Imagine," while drones formed the shape of the Olympic emblem in the sky above the stadium and transformed into the shape of the globe.

"With the world in a tough situation because of the coronavirus pandemic, I would like to pay my respect and express my gratitude to medical workers and all those who are working hard every day to overcome the difficulties," said the President of the organising committee, Seiko Hashimoto.

Most countries were represented by both male and female flagbearers in an Olympic first, but not everybody took pandemic measures.

Teams from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Pakistan flagbearers paraded maskless in an awkward contrast to protocol and the vast majority of other athletes at the ceremony.

Regardless, it marked a coming together of the world, with an audience of hundreds of millions around the globe and at various stages of the pandemic tuning in to watch the start of the greatest show in sport.

Patty Mills and Cate Campbell led a 63-strong Australian contingent at the ceremony while hundreds more teammates watched from around the world.

Frontline medical worker and Australian pistol shooter Elena Galiabovitch was also honoured, joining other athletes in bringing the Olympic flag into the arena.

Members of the Canada delegation wore patches in the colour of the rainbow, the symbol of the LGBT community, on their jackets.

US first lady Jill Biden clapped the Americans as did France President Emmanuel Macron for the French team.

The Olympic oath, recited by the athletes at the end of the parade, has been updated for the Tokyo Games, with athletes swearing their commitment to inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination for the first time at the Olympics.

The opening also featured fireworks in indigo and white, the colours of the Tokyo 2020 emblem, and gave a nod to Japanese tradition represented by giant wooden Olympic rings linked to the 1964 Games.

A vastly smaller number of athletes marched in the teams' parade, with many flying in just before their competitions and due to leave shortly after to avoid infections.

A moment of silence was held "for all those family and friends we have lost," especially to the coronavirus, and mention was made of the Israeli athletes slain at the 1972 Munich Games.

Japan had billed the Olympics as an echo of the 1964 Tokyo Games, which marked the country's return to the world stage after its devastating World War Two defeat, but this time showcasing its recovery from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Australian Associated Press