His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan has officially opened the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo. He did this together with ski jumping legend Masahiko Harada. Masahiko Harada also received the Asian Winter Games Torch and lit the cauldron before fireworks erupted in the indoor stadium. For security reasons, Crown Prince Naruhito’s attendance had not been widely publicised beforehand.
The opening event took place in the Sapporo Dome stadium, which is known for having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972. The city of Obihiro is co-hosting the event. A total of 64 sporting events are set to take place over the next week before the closing ceremony on 26 February.
Unity and overcoming adversity were the central themes of the event. The build-up to the Games had been dominated by Chinese and South Korean concerns about books denying the 1937 Nanjing Massacre which had been left in athletes’ hotel rooms. The Games also include a team of seven people from North-Korea, who have been given special permission to enter Japan. Australia and New Zealand are participating for the first time, but feature as “guests” and are not eligible to win medals.
“These Games will show the potential of Asia to the world,” said Sapporo 2017 President Katsuhiro Akimoto. “We have great expectations for the spectacular athletic performances of over 2,000 athletes.”
The opening event had a 4 pm start time to make it easier for the athletes who had to complete first thing in the morning. Special buses drove the athletes to and from the stadium. The event was ended with an hour-long performance by the Japanese band Dreams Come True, although by then many athletes and dignitaries had already left the stadium. The band was nonetheless greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Crown Prince Naruhito opened the Games on behalf of his father, Emperor Akishino.