Paralympics get underway with powerful opening ceremony

5:24 am on 25 August 2021

"Paralympic athletes know that no matter which way the wind blows, its power can be harnessed to move forward. They know that by being brave and spreading their wings, they can reach extraordinary heights."

Fireworks explode over the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

Fireworks explode over the Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: AFP or licensors

The words of Tokyo 2020 organisers, as the Paralympic Games finally opened, 364 days later than planned and after a year of the utmost difficulties.

The Games began with an opening ceremony full of colour and celebration interjected with a touch of poignancy, a concept of 'We Have Wings' which organisers said was intended to raise awareness of the courage of Paralympians.

"I cannot believe we are finally here," said Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, in his opening speech.

No crowds were there to watch the opening ceremony, as will be the case throughout the Games, but it was a still a show, a cauldron of colour and celebration.

There were sombre moments, too, reflective of the events of the past 17 months. A rescue worker was among those to carry the Japanese flag into the stadium, while the Paralympic flag was handed over to eight key workers who supported the people of Japan in their day-to-day lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 714 cast members performing in the opening ceremony, 166 have impairments. In Japan, it is hoped the Games will act as a catalyst for change in societal attitudes towards disability in the country.

No New Zealanders were involved in the opening ceremony as they decided to stay in their bubble in the athletes village.

The Afghanistan flag was carried in by a Games volunteer, as an act of solidarity after Afghanistan's two Paralympic athletes were forced to withdraw from the Games because of the situation in the country since the collapse of the government and the return of the Taliban.

The Paralympic cauldron, placed lower than its Olympic counterpart so competitors can "feel an affinity" with it, opened like a flower to "embody vitality and hope", and was lit by a trio of Japanese Para-athletes.

In all, about 4,400 athletes from 162 national Paralympic committees will compete in 539 medal events across 22 sports in Tokyo, the first city to hold the summer Paralympics twice, having first done so in 1964.