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Tokyo Paralympics kicks off with fireworks at opening ceremony

If you were feeling bereft at the end of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – the two-week sporting extravaganza the world needed to distract it from COVID – never fear.

On Tuesday night the Tokyo Paralympics kicked off with a spectacular opening ceremony, and another week of inspiring athletes and incredible acts of sporting prowess await.

Australia’s flag bearers, wheelchair tennis star Danni Di Toro and rugby player Ryley Batt, beamed as they waved the flag with pride.

Batt, wearing a mic, could be heard saying to Di Toro, “How good, Danni? I couldn’t think of anyone better to do it with.”

The rest of the Australian Paralympic team watched on from the Olympic Village, the only other Australian in attendance being chef de mission Kate McLoughlin.

Earlier on Tuesday, McLoughlin said the decision for Australian athletes not to march at the opening ceremony was made several weeks ago.

“While it’s a decision I didn’t want to have to make, it’s one we made to keep the athletes safe and to make sure they did get to the start line,” she said.

“It just got down to the fact that we’re here to compete, we’re here to perform for Australia.

“It’s far from ideal.

“Safety is our No.1 priority for this team.”

COVID precautions
McLoughlin said factors such as potentially having to share opening ceremony transport with other countries influenced the decision.

The Australian team had their own small ceremony at the athletes’ village and sent off their flag bearers with a guard of honour.

A brilliant fireworks display lit up Tokyo Stadium at the beginning of the ceremony, while a heart-rending version of the Japanese national anthem sent shivers down the spine.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito got it all started again, this time under the theme “We Have Wings.”

And once again, the organisers devised a quirky, fun, and entertaining show, despite performing to a mostly empty stadium.

Among the few dignitaries on hand were Douglas Emhoff, husband of US vice-president Kamala Harris, International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons and IOC president Thomas Bach.

It was a circus-like opening with acrobats, clowns, vibrant music and fireworks atop the stadium to mark the start of the long parade of athletes.

The opening ceremony featured the national flags of the 162 delegations represented, which included the refugee team.

One team was noticeable by its absence – the entire New Zealand team decided not to attend the ceremony as a health precaution.

The flag of Afghanistan was carried by a volunteer despite the delegation not being on hand in Tokyo.

The Paralympics are being held without fans, although organisers are planning to let some school children attend, going against the advice of much of the medical community.

The Tokyo Games will feature 4,403 athletes – a record number for any Paralympics.

There are 179 athletes in the Australian Paralympic team alone.