The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have not been without their critics and controversies, but few could argue with the choice of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka to light the Olympic cauldron. With anti-Olympic protesters chanting outside the near-empty stadium, the four-time Grand Slam champion climbed up to the top of the arena to light the hydrogen-fueled flame that will burn for the 17-day duration of the Games. Osaka will be returning to competition in Tokyo for the first time since she dropped out of the French Open, citing mental health issues.
Osaka’s star turn came only a few minutes after a clearly reluctant Emperor Naruhito declared open the Games, despite having expressed doubts about whether they should even go ahead in the midst of a pandemic. Naruhito spoke only briefly to open the world’s foremost sporting event—using language that made clear there was nothing to celebrate. Speaking before him, the IOC President Thomas Bach, whose organization has insisted the Games go ahead, insisted the Olympics was all about uniting people through sport and not, as critics often suggest, all about the money. “We can only go faster, we can only aim higher, we can only become stronger if we stand together in solidarity,” Bach said. “That is why the IOC has adapted its motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together.”