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What to expect from an Olympic Opening Ceremony during a pandemic

There's still a lot being kept under wraps about the Tokyo Opening Ceremony, but there will definitely be fewer people in the Olympic Stadium compared to past games.

When the Tokyo Olympics officially kick off on Friday, July 23, with the Opening Ceremony — one year to the day after it was originally scheduled — it will look much different than anyone could have predicted.

International spectators were banned from the Games months ago, and just over a week before the Opening Ceremony, Japan entered a state of emergency and local fans were barred as well. 

So, when the Opening Ceremony begins at 7 a.m. ET on Friday, 8 p.m. local time in Tokyo, the seats at the Olympic Stadium will be virtually empty except for a few dignitaries, Olympic sponsors and officials from the International Olympic committee. According to Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, that makes up only about 10,000 people. First Lady Jill Biden will be part of the American delegation. Her trip to Tokyo will be her first solo international trip as First Lady. 

Not even the athletes' closest friends and families will be in Tokyo. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, NBCUniversal and two other sponsors are hosting Team USA's loved ones at a remote viewing party in Orlando. 

Like with most other sporting events affected by the coronavirus, the roar of the crowd will be sorely missed. Though unlike MLB and international soccer, which pumped crowd noise into its empty stadiums during the pandemic, USA Today reports artificial crowd noise will not used during the Opening Ceremony. Instead, there'll be more audio equipment during the broadcast with the hope of capturing more natural sound. 

What about the athletes themselves? According to the IOC, just over 11,000 athletes will be participating in the Games. Even in traditional Olympiads, not every athlete is present at the Opening Ceremony. Some are preparing for their events. This summer in Tokyo, two competitions begin on Wednesday, while four others start the day of the Opening Ceremony. 

Even with those considerations, it's still unknown how COVID and social distancing concerns will affect the number of athletes allowed to participate in the Parade of Nations. 

In terms of the parade order, Team USA will be pulling up the rear. Traditionally Greece, the country which created the Olympics, leads the parade, followed by the rest of the teams in alphabetical order with the exception of the host country at the back. This time around, however, the parade will honor host countries for upcoming Games as well, meaning France (host of the 2024 Summer Olympics) and the US (hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles), will march in just ahead of Team Japan. 

Team USA has already revealed their uniforms for the Opening Ceremony. As in years past, the kits were designed by Ralph Lauren. The uniforms feature jackets over striped blue and white shirts, American flag scarves and blue jeans. As a sign of the times, the uniforms will even feature branded masks. 

While the majority of the pack will be wearing blue button-up jackets, the flag bearer will be sporting a white jacket, which is self-cooling, according to the company. Team USA's flag bearers for both the Olympic and Paralympic games have yet to be announced.

One big change this year is that most countries will have two flag-bearers instead of one. Ahead of the Tokyo Games, the IOC Executive Board changed protocol guidelines to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their country's flag during the Opening Ceremony. The move is meant to "send a strong message of inclusive and gender-equal Olympic Games where women and men have equal prominence," the IOC said. 

Also at the Opening Ceremony will be the presentation of the Olympic Laurel, an award introduced at the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to the IOC, the Olympic Laurel honors "an outstanding individual for their achievements in education, culture, development and peace through sport." Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus will be awarded the Laurel in Tokyo.

Not much else is known about the other displays viewers can expect come Friday, but Olympic organizers have said that more information about the Opening Ceremony will be announced daily in the week leading up to the big day.

The Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony will be broadcast live on NBC at 7 a.m. ET, and the full primetime broadcast kicks off that night at 7:30 p.m. ET.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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