Everything to Expect From the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

Tokyo Olympic Rings
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It seems impossible the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony will strike the same jubilant note as the kickoffs of Games past. The world is still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes at the Olympic Village are already testing positive for the virus, and Japan has so far administered enough vaccine doses to cover nearly a third of its population. The situation is so dire that organizers finally reached the decision this month to bar spectators from most of the events, reversing earlier plans to allow domestic fans to watch from the sidelines.

Nevertheless, organizers are persisting. Despite pressure to cancel the Tokyo Olympics, which have already been pushed back a year, the Games will launch Friday, July 23, with the opening ceremony at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

Tokyo Olympics National Stadium

Carl Court/Getty Images

“I want to transmit to [viewers] a message from Tokyo about overcoming hardship with effort and wisdom,” Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters earlier this month, per The New York Times.

Here’s what we know about the ceremony so far:

The opening ceremony will air live on NBC, then replay during primetime.

Because of the time difference, NBC’s live coverage of the Tokyo ceremony starts at 6:55/5:55c on the morning of Friday, July 23, followed by a special edition of Today at 11/10c and then daytime coverage of Friday’s events. Viewers can also stream opening ceremony coverage on the NBC Sports app and on NBCOlympics.com.

That first airing of the opening ceremony conflicts with many Americans’ work hours and school day, but NBC will reair the festivities at 7:30/6:30c Friday night and then again overnight.

Fans won’t be able to attend, but there will be around 10,000 audience members.

Don’t expect to see an empty National Stadium. Despite the COVID-19 adjustments, around 10,000 “special quota” people will attend the opening ceremony—including members of the IOC, foreign dignitaries, diplomats, and Olympic sponsors—according to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun. First Lady Jill Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron are expected to show up, reports USA Today.

The Parade of Nations could be a fraction of its usual size.

One of the usual highlights of an opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations, in which thousands of Olympians march around the stadium, representing their countries. (This year, the American athletes will sport uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren, with jackets featuring built-in cooling fans to combat the summer heat.)

But the parade might not be its usual spectacle. For example, only about 10 percent of the Australian athletes competing in this year’s Games are expect to march, according to USA Today.

The theme of the show is “United by Emotion.”

Despite the restrictions, you’ll still see “fireworks, flagbearers, and fanfare” at the Tokyo opening ceremony, the organizing committee teases. You’ll also see the traditional lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

The rest of the pageantry, overseen by executive producer Hioki Takayuki, is top-secret, but we know the theme of the evening is “United by Emotion.”

The committee explains: “Tokyo 2020 wants everyone to experience the same excitement, joy, and at times disappointment, through the athletes’ competitive performances.… It’s hoped the ceremony will be an experience that conveys how we all have the ability to celebrate our differences, to empathize, and to live side-by-side with compassion for one another.”

Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony, Friday, July 23, 6:55 am/5:55c and 7:30/6:30c, NBC