Hangzhou stepped up security ahead of yesterday’s opening of the Asian Games in China, as organizers sought to get the sporting extravaganza off to a smooth start, with Chinese President Xi Jinping among the dignitaries in attendance.
Roads in a sizeable “traffic control area” around the city’s Olympic stadium were blocked off, at least one metro station was shut and other Games centers were closed ahead of a ceremony organizers described as “mesmerizing.”
Some of those making the trek toward the main stadium were left frustrated by the size of the sealed-off area.
“I think it shows they’re too nervous, right?” said 45-year-old Hangzhou resident Li Jian. “I think we should be a little more confident.”
Organizers have not disclosed spending on the Games, although the Hangzhou government has said it spent more than 200 billion yuan (US$30 billion) in the five years through 2020 on transport infrastructure, stadiums, accommodation and other facilities.
Delayed a year due to China’s measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the quadrennial Games are the country’s biggest sporting event in more than a decade, with more than 12,000 athletes from 45 nations competing in 40 sports.
Organizers hoped the high-tech opening ceremony would help drum up excitement for the Games. Interest at home has been muted as the economy sputters and some question the cost of hosting the event.
“We will transport the beauty of mountains and rivers directly onto the stage, using the mesmerizing combination of naked-eye 3D visual effects and virtual imagery,” Sha Xiaolan, chief director for the ceremony, told a news conference on Thursday, state media reported.
Dozens of smiling volunteers greeted arriving journalists in Hangzhou this week, with some expressing relief that the event was finally getting started.
The official slogan of the event, “Heart to Heart, @Future,” represents the goal of uniting the people and countries of Asia through these Games, officials have said, but geopolitical tensions and rivalries threatened to overshadow that effort this week.
India on Friday protested a visa issue that affected three of its athletes at the Games, leading Indian Minister of Sports Anurag Thakur to cancel his trip.
Japan’s top government spokesperson said on Tuesday that Tokyo would do its utmost to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in China as the release of treated water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant into the sea has chilled ties.
“We should promote peace through sports, adhere to the principle of goodwill towards neighbours and mutual benefit and ... resist the cold war mentality and confrontation between camps,” Xi told dignitaries including International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach at a banquet yesterday, state news agency Xinhua reported.
A few sports had started before the opening ceremony, including table tennis. Taiwan’s men’s team on Friday played Kazakhstan in their second tie in their group.
Taiwan won 3-0 to advance to the knockout round with two victories.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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