All eyes will be on the Olympic Stadium on July 23

Credit: REUTERS

After a year-long delay due to coronavirus, the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo will officially get underway with the Opening Ceremony. It won’t technically be the first action of the Games, however, as sporting action begins two days before. And that will include Team GB, no less, with the women’s team opening the football tournament against Chile on Wednesday.

The head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee has refused to rule out cancelling the Games at the 11th hour amid mounting worries over surging Covid-19 cases.

When is the Olympics opening ceremony?

Friday, July 23. This is only a day earlier than originally planned before Covid-19 pushed the Games back 12 months. Organisers managed to keep an almost identical schedule, aside from the 24-hour difference in schedule. 

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What time does it start?

Unlike the last Olympics in Rio, which took place four hours behind the British Isles, Tokyo will instead be eight hours ahead. Once again, it is kicking off at a civilised 8pm local time, which is also much more civilised for British viewers too, as that means midday, rather than midnight. 

Numbers of athletes attending the ceremony will be severely cut back because of Covid-19 restrictions, although how much that affects the running time of the entire ceremony remains to be seen. For now, the official schedule reads 8pm-11pm (so midday to 3pm UK time).

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Where can I watch it?

Eurosport are the main European rights holders for broadcasting the Olympics this year although the BBC will still be covering the big moments across their channels. For the Opening Ceremony, the action will be live on BBC One, BBC Red Button and online.

With Eurosport you will need a subscription. You can add it to your Sky, BT or Virgin contract or sign up to Eurosport Player for direct access. 

Telegraph Sport will also be running a live blog of both Opening and Closing Ceremonies, so make sure you bookmark this page.

Where is it taking place?

Rather aptly, the Olympic Stadium will be used for the Opening Ceremony (and for the Closing Ceremony). Football and athletics will be on full display in between. Think Japan’s answer to a Wembley, Maracana or the Bird’s Nest.

Used as the main stadium for the 1964 Olympic Games, the venue has been rebuilt as a brand new stadium – designed by eminent architect Kengo Kuma – for the 2021 Games, although the process was beset by a number of scandals and delays, and tearing down the original was a controversial move in itself.

The newly rebuilt national stadium

Credit: AP

Which GB athletes will be attending the Opening Ceremony?

A maximum of 30 Team GB athletes will attend the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Tokyo amid heightened anxiety around Covid-19 infection risk. Up to 200 British athletes would normally attend the event, but almost all nations are expected to have dramatically smaller numbers this Friday. 

In what will be the lowest attended opening ceremony in at least a century, there are suggestions that the likely congregation of 30 Britons could fall even further in the next 24 hours. A total of 376 athletes, and a further 22 reserve athletes, are competing across 26 sports in Japan for Britain. 

Telegraph Sport understands athletes have taken it upon themselves to tell Team GB chiefs they will not be attending on Friday. Britain has applied no pressure either way, given the potential risks of mingling with other nations in the days before competition. The team will announce two flag bearers – a man and a woman – for the ceremony. Details of lower numbers for the curtain raiser emerged after Team GB recognised athletes were in for a "bumpy ride", but said it was confident the Games will survive.

Who will be GB’s flagbearers?

Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi, Olympic gold-medal winners in sailing and rowing, have been selected as the Team GB flagbearers for Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

In a break from tradition, the International Olympic Committee is allowing federations to nominate one female and one male athlete for the honour and, ahead of defending their Rio Olympic titles, Mills and Sbihi have been selected.

The decision was made by a panel headed by Team GB chef de mission Mark England and they will follow Sir Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy, the respective flag bearers in Rio and London, as well as Anita Lonsborough, who was the first female to carry the flag for Team GB in Tokyo in 1964. Team GB said that Mills and Sbihi exemplified their four core 

Rower Moe Sbihi will be one of Team GB's flagbearers at the Opening Ceremony on Friday

Credit: David Rose

values of pride, responsibility, respect and unity.

 

Mills, who will be defending her women’s 470 title alongside Eilidh McIntyre in Tokyo, will become the first female sailor to carry the British flag whilst Sbihi, a gold medallist in the men’s four five years ago, is the fourth rower to be given the privilege to march at the head of what will be a dramatically reduced delegation.

“To be asked to carry the flag for Team GB at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a sentence I ever thought I’d say,” said Mills, who also won silver at London. “When Mark [England] told me I had been chosen, it was completely overwhelming and when I had a moment to think about what it meant I got pretty emotional.

“It is the greatest honour in my career and I hope more than ever before that this Games can lift our country and deliver some incredible sporting moments to inspire the nation.”

Sbihi, who along with the rowing team is staying in the Olympic Village for the first time since Sydney 2000, spoke of memories of seeing fellow rowers, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, carry the flag.

“It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement  – people remember those images,” said Sbihi, who also won bronze at London 2012. 

Latest news about the Opening Ceremony

Mansai Nomura, a famous Japanese actor, was the creative director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for both the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. But when the Games were postponed, he was replaced by Hiroshi Sasaki, a former advertising executive with Japan’s powerful public relations and advertising agency Dentsu, with Nomura staying on as an adviser.

The show director for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony has been fired on the eve of the event over a decades-old skit referencing the Holocaust, in the latest blow for organisers of the pandemic-delayed Games. Kentaro Kobayashi’s comments in a video of a comedy sketch from 1998 emerged online overnight and sparked shock from some in Japan.

"It came to light that during a past performance, (he) used language that mocked a tragic fact of history," Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters. "The organising committee has decided to relieve Kobayashi of his post," she added.

Meanwhile, Keigo Oyamada, a Japanese composer working on the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, resigned just days before the Games after coming under fire for bullying classmates during his childhood. Organisers said a segment of the music Oyamada composed for Friday’s Opening Ceremony will not be used, NHK public television and other Japanese media reported. He will also be removed from his planned role in the Paralympics opening ceremony, NHK said.

For the first time, teams will enter the opening ceremony in Japanese-language order (using the katakana form of written Japanese). At prior Olympics held in Japan, English-language order was used. The only exceptions will be Greece and Japan. As the originating Olympic host nation, Greece always enter first at any Olympics. Japan, as is tradition, will enter last as this year’s hosts.

What differences will there be due to Covid-19?

Overseas fans had already been banned from attending the Olympics and Paralympics to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 but that extended to a total ban on spectators in Tokyo and the three neighbouring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa due to a new state of emergency. It means only a total of 26 sessions will take place in front of fans, and even then numbers will be capped at the venues, but the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo will definitely not be one of them.

It was confirmed at the start of June that French President Emmanuel Macron plans to attend the Opening Ceremony of the rescheduled Games on July 23, with France holding the next Games in Paris in 2024. US First Lady Jill Biden will also be in attendance. Organisers have, however, tried to limit the general number of officials and delegates attending.

As for the athletes, they are still expected to be able to march in for the ceremony but seeing as athletes are only allowed to arrive in the Athletes’ Village five days before their competition starts, the numbers are expected to be greatly reduced for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

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