Michael Pavitt

Earlier today, the Asian Winter Games Opening Ceremony took place in the Sapporo Dome, getting the eighth edition of the multi-sport event underway. In some respects, it felt like an Opening Ceremony, but in others it did not.

Separated into essentially three acts, each appeared disconnected from the next. The traditional protocol of an Opening Ceremony was all there in act one, with the raising of the host nation’s flag, the Parade of Nations and the declaration of the Games being open were all observed in the first act.

After a break, which allowed many athletes to depart as they rest up for competitions, the culture of Sapporo and Japanese culture was explored. Featuring both traditional and modern dances, the only aspect providing a link towards the Games themselves was the flying squirrel mascot, Ezomon. That was until, the Torch appeared out of nowhere to complete the formalities.

In fact, it seemed a number of people had deemed the second act to be the closing part of the Ceremony, due to the lighting of flame and the four explosions which greeted it. It was a surprise to hear that we would need to stay tuned, as the third part was on the way.

For the third act, you could have been mistaken for thinking you had walked into the middle of a concert, one completely separate from the Games. Only mentions of “snow” and “winter babies” could even have to remotest link to the Asian Winter Games during the hour-long performance by Japanese band Dreams Come True.

While the three separate acts appeared disjointed, it was fair to say there was some logic behind the decisions taken for the Ceremony, which was vastly different to any that I or my colleague Nick Butler have attended.

One of the positive aspects, was the early start time of 4pm. This enabled all athletes to be able to attend for at least some part of the Ceremony, compared to the Olympic Games, when a late start time normally leads to masses of swimmers missing out entirely, due to their early start. It made a great deal of sense to have it earlier in the day for this reason.

Similarly, the early staging of the Parade of Nations got athletes off their feet and into the heart of the action, giving them a chance to soak up the atmosphere and spectacle of the Ceremony itself. Rather than standing in the wings.

The third part format gave the Ceremony a more disjointed feel ©Getty Images
The third part format gave the Ceremony a more disjointed feel ©Getty Images

While we were pondering over why nobody seems to have taken this route before, the answer appeared to present itself at the end of the first act. When the Ceremony had just felt like it was getting started, it stopped. Athletes, who had shuffled their way into the Parade of Nations, were soon shuffling their way back out again. The five minute break which was required to allow them to leave, seemed to stop much of the flow of proceedings.

Clearly this is something that could be resolved for those watching on television or via the Olympic Channel, which appears to be ever increasing its live content. During the break, add a video to show off the host city and nobody is any the wiser that there has been a gap. Sitting inside the stadium, it was quite an obvious lull.

There was a nice and rare touch in the Ceremony, in which the medallists from the morning’s giant slalom snowboard competition received their honours. While the tradition of handing out the men’s marathon title is well-known in the Summer Olympic Games, handing out medals prior to a Games getting underway was a different concept. One has to wonder whether the idea was merely due to the early scheduling of the competition or due to Japan having a major medal hope, who would actually claim the gold.

It was also interesting to assess the venue itself for a Ceremony, with the Sapporo Dome normally used for major baseball competitions. With the bowl type shape, one side of the venue felt rather distant from the stage in which the Ceremony’s action was mainly taking place in. This was emphasised even more when the lead singer of the Dreams Come True band, who perform the Sapporo 2017 theme, launched into one of her lung busting runs from the back of the stage to the front after each song.

Organisers had clearly attempted to deal with this particular challenge with young dancers having been spread throughout the venue for many of the performances throughout the event.

The vast space in the Sapporo Dome meant a large number of dancers were needed ©Getty Images
The vast space in the Sapporo Dome meant a large number of dancers were needed ©Getty Images

Clearly, the focus of the Games will be one sport and we are not critics of artistic impression. However, organisers do place a lot of focus on Ceremonies, especially with a couple of hours of entertainment and culture acting as a means to advertise your city. I am sure it would have been an interesting spectacle for the watching Casey Wasserman and Tony Estanguet, who will no doubt have been looking to glean some ideas as Los Angeles 2024 and Paris 2024 work towards the International Olympic Committee Session later this year.

Perhaps this may have been more important from a Los Angeles 2024 perspective, considering their concept of having four Ceremonies for their Olympic Games. Two for the Opening and two for the Closing. While modernising the format of the Ceremonies is an interesting idea, there are pros and cons to be considered, as was clear today.

It was also impossible not to wonder whether today’s Ceremony would provide a flavour of what we can expect at Tokyo 2020. Although, Sapporo 2017 and Tokyo 2020 are separate, the Japanese Olympic Committee have a strong presence in both. Could we see Tokyo tweak some of the concepts used today, such as the earlier start times or allowing a large number of athletes to get more of a flavour of the Ceremony before departing.

Or, as someone pointed out to us during our live blog, fireworks tend to look better at night. Maybe Ceremonies should just stay right as they are.