The International Olympic Committee and the local organising committee today sought to transmit a message of hope as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally got underway, a year later than planned, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The opening ceremony at the new National Stadium in the Japanese capital was a suitably sober affair, without the usual carnival atmosphere.

All events at the games are having to take place without spectators because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, and there were only a limited number of athletes marching at the ceremony, donning face masks.

Nonetheless, IOC president Thomas Bach claimed it was a triumph that the Olympics were taking place at all given the challenges the organisers had faced over the past 18 months.

He said in a speech: “Today is a moment of hope. Yes, it is very different from what all of us had imagined. But let us cherish this moment because, finally, we are all here together.”

Bach added: “The pandemic forced us apart, to keep our distance from each other. To stay away even from our loved ones. This separation made this tunnel so dark. But today, wherever in the world you may be we’re united in sharing this moment together. The Olympic flame makes this light shine brighter for all of us.”

There was a similar optimism from Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, who said: “Following the challenges of the first-ever postponement in Olympic history, the Tokyo 2020 games finally open here today.

“Hopes have been connected one by one by many hands, and we are now in a position to welcome this day.”

The Olympic flame was lit by Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis star.

The games run to 8 August.