Busy that day: Europe’s leaders pass on Tokyo Olympics
French President Emmanuel Macron, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg will be the only EU heads of state or government at today's opening ceremony.
It’s going to be a strange one.
The Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony has begun, already shrouded in controversy, mostly pre-recorded and in a Tokyo Olympic Stadium made virtually empty by sanitary restrictions due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in Japan.
Only 950 VIP guests were slated to attend the event, with very few world leaders among the dignitaries. According to a POLITICO tally, French President Emmanuel Macron, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg will be the only EU heads of state or government to attend. Others quietly put their RSVP in a drawer, and never opened it again.
Olympic opening ceremonies, for all their kitsch, lavishness and dull parade of nations, are also often the largest meeting of world leaders of the diplomatic season. The 2012 Olympics hold the record with about 100 heads of states and governments flocking to London to see Danny Boyle’s British bash. Even the Rio 2016 opening ceremony, which was made awkward by then-President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial, attracted French President François Hollande, Italian PM Matteo Renzi and German President Joachim Gauck.
But in Tokyo, even former Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who was so invested in getting the Games to Japan that he dressed up as videogame character Super Mario during Rio’s closing ceremony, said he wouldn’t attend, citing the capital’s state of emergency. Italian Prime Minister Draghi, the other powerful Mario on the world stage, won’t be there either.
Here’s what other EU countries and the U.K. had to say about attending.
Neither Chancellor Sebastian Kurz nor President Alexander Van der Bellen have announced plans to attend the Games in person. Vice-chancellor and sports minister, Werner Kogler, will not travel to Tokyo either due to the travel restrictions and to avoid any image of using his position for privileged traveling, his press team told POLITICO.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has no plans to attend the opening ceremony, citing the sanitary conditions due to the pandemic, his spokesperson confirmed. However, sports are a regional competence in Belgium, and it’s not clear if one of the country’s three regional sports ministers will attend the Games.
Minister of Youth and Sports Andrey Kuzmanov will attend the ceremony, an official said.
Only former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović will attend, as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), according to Croatian daily Jutarnji. Neither Prime Minister Andrej Plenković nor President Zoran Milanović will travel to Tokyo.
President Nicos Anastasiades will not attend the ceremony. Anastasiades had initially intended to attend, according to senior government officials, but recent developments on the Mediterranean island and the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led to a change of plans.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš won’t be at the ceremony.
Culture Minister Joy Mogensen had planned to attend, but was unable to do so because she is pregnant, a spokesperson said.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas will not attend the opening ceremony, “but will support Team Estonia from home,” a spokesperson said. President Kersti Kaljulaid will also not attend the opening ceremony, but may join for the closing event. A spokeswoman for the president said: “We are finalizing plans to go to Tokyo to take part in the ending ceremony, but with the [coronavirus] situation it remains to be seen whether it will actually happen.”
President Sauli Niinistö and premier Sanna Marin will sit these Games out. (Marin is on her annual summer holiday until the end of the month.) Finland is sending its Minister of Science and Culture Antti Kurvinen to Tokyo. “Our athletes have had a tough time during COVID-19, and preparing for the Olympic Games has been very challenging… By attending the Games, I want to show my support for the Finnish Olympic team and for Finnish sport,” Kurvinen said in a statement.
Emmanuel Macron will be one of few leaders to attend the Games. Speaking on the sidelines of the Tour de France last week, Macron said he was going to support “French athletes and for the Olympic spirit,” despite “the extremely harsh situation” due to the pandemic. Of course, Macron is also heading to Japan because France will be hosting the next Olympic Games in 2024. The closing ceremony on August 8 will kick off the “countdown” to the Paris Games, said Macron, that will — he hopes — take place in the “best conditions possible.” Macron will stay in Japan for 36 hours, attending the opening ceremony and meeting Japanese leaders and sports officials.
None of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will travel to Tokyo, a spokeswoman said.
Greece will be represented by senior figures from politics and sport, including Deputy Minister of Culture and Sport Lefteris Avgenakis. “While the global pandemic and our ambitious domestic agenda makes attendance difficult for a larger delegation, the spirit of the Olympics is always present in Greece,” a senior government official said. “Greeks will all be glued to screens cheering on our brilliant athletes.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a radio interview on Friday that he won’t be attending the Olympics. He said that “it wouldn’t be right, I think, if the people are excluded from the Olympics” while “their elected leaders are there.”
No one from the Irish cabinet is going to Tokyo.
Neither President Sergio Mattarella nor Prime Minister Mario Draghi will attend the opening ceremony. The Italian government will be represented by Valentina Vezzali, a 6-times gold medalist in fencing, who is Italy’s undersecretary for sport, and Giovanni Malagò, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, a government spokesperson said.
Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš will not be attending the Games in Tokyo … nor will any member of the Latvian Cabinet, the Latvian State Chancellery’s press department said in an email.
Linas Obcarskas, vice-minister for science, education, and sport, will attend the opening ceremony, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel won’t be attending the Tokyo Olympics in person, his spokesperson confirmed, nor will any member of the government. The country will be represented by head of state Grand Duke Henri.
President George Vella will not be attending the ceremony, with his office saying that there were never any plans for him to go. Similarly, Prime Minister Robert Abela won’t be going to Tokyo, where just six Maltese athletes will be competing.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte is not traveling to Tokyo. King Willem-Alexander, who has been to every Olympiad since Athens 2004, will be missing this time “due to current travel restrictions.”
President Andrzej Duda will attend the opening ceremony, according to a press program. He will be in Japan from July 22 to 24. However, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will not join him, a Polish official said.
There were no plans for either Portugal’s president or prime minister to go to Tokyo.
Neither President Klaus Iohannis nor Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu will attend the opening ceremony because of increasing COVID-19 infections at home.
No one from Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s Cabinet is expected to attend, a spokeswoman said.
Simona Kustec, minister for research, education and sport, will be attending, according to a spokesperson for Slovenia’s permanent representation to the EU. The country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will not attend, as he is wrapping up a cross-country trip through the U.S. promoting Spanish businesses. He did, however, meet with Olympic athletes and trainers July 16 at the Moncloa government palace to give them a send-off and wish them luck. King Felipe V has no plans to attend either.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is not going, a spokesperson said.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston is the only member of the British government going. “Not the experience it normally is,” said a U.K. government official. “Most hours of each day in a hotel room.”