TOKYO—French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday backed Japan’s decision to host the delayed Olympics despite the pandemic, as he attended the opening ceremony in Tokyo with just a few hundred other officials and dignitaries.
Paris will host the next edition of the summer Games in 2024, and Macron’s meetings in Tokyo included talks with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach.
The French president, who arrived on Friday morning, was one of only around 950 people in the stands, including US First Lady Jill Biden.
Coronavirus rules have forced Macron to reduce his delegation to a minimum, and he is travelling with just a single minister.
But despite the restrictions, Macron told France Televisions hours before the ceremony that “these Olympic Games had to be held” after they were postponed for a year in March 2020.
“We have to resist, we have to hold these Games. It’s important because the Olympic spirit is a spirit of cooperation and that’s what we need in these times,” he added.
Earlier Friday, Macron met Emperor Naruhito, who declared the Games officially open at the ceremony in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.
Macron told France Televisions he sympathised with the difficult decision Japan faced in moving ahead with the Games even as infections rise in Tokyo.
“I think that they did not anticipate that these variants were going to happen and because their borders were shut, they started vaccinations later than some others, which has created difficulties,” he said.
“But I think the Japanese authorities were right to go ahead with the Olympics,” he added.
“It demonstrates something: that whatever happens, we have to adapt, to organise and do the best we can.”
‘All of France cheering’
On Saturday, Macron will meet Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, two years after his first official visit to Japan.
The two leaders are expected to discuss the situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing maritime and military pressure from China, as well as bilateral economic ties.
Macron is also planning to raise the issue of parental abduction in Japan, which does not offer joint custody for children in cases of divorce or separation.
The subject has been in the headlines since a French father in Tokyo began a hunger strike to win access to his children, who he says were abducted by their Japanese mother.
Vincent Fichot has not seen his two children in nearly three years and began a hunger strike outside the Olympic Stadium on July 10.
The French president will get a taste of Olympic sport during his brief trip, with stops at the judo and women’s 3×3 basketball competitions—both of which are taking place without spectators.
He said he would be carrying a message of “total and complete support.”
“I know all the sacrifices they have made… all of France will be cheering them and their performances.”