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Tokyo Olympics Opening ceremony: What to expect? Performers, 15 leaders like Macron, Jill Biden to attend

Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo, July 21: Forget the mass choreography, the huge props and the cornucopia of dancer, actors and lights associated with an Olympic Games opening ceremony. It will be different in Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo's grand opening on Friday (July 23) will have none of that splendour or grandiosity. Instead, it will be a scaled down affair, a "sobering" performance, says Marco Balich, opening ceremonies executive producer, and now a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremonies.

However, leaders from around 15 countries are expected to attend the opening ceremony of the COVID-19 hit Tokyo Olympics.


And those attending the ceremony in person could be as low as 1,000 due to the pandemic. The decision to limit the number of attendees during the opening ceremony at the National Stadium was taken in view of the organisers' efforts to control the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japanese government Katsunobu Kato was quoted as saying by 'Kyodo' news agency.

World leaders who have already promised their attendance in the opening ceremony are French President Emmanuel Macron, Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene and US first lady Jill Biden among others.

But the rising cases of coronavirus in Japan has forced many leaders to cancel their visits for the sport's showpiece event, reducing the splendour of the event.

"It will be a much more sobering ceremony. Nevertheless, with beautiful Japanese aesthetics. Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality," Balich, who was in charge of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, told Reuters.

"We have to do our best to complete this unique and hopefully the only one of its kind Olympics."

Japan had decided that participants would compete in empty venues to minimise health risks. So far there have been 67 cases of COVID-19 infections in Japan among those accredited for the Games since July 1, when many athletes and officials started arriving.

This has also affected the opening ceremony, with not all athletes present at the teams' parade as many fly in just before their competitions and leave shortly after to avoid contacts as much as possible.

Empty seats

Instead of more than 10,000 athletes marching into a capacity-crowd stadium as usual, the team parade will be smaller, in a largely empty Tokyo Olympic stadium bar a few hundred officials, and with tight social distancing rules.

"There will be several hundred marshals to guide the athletes for the parade. The opening ceremony in a way is going to be unique and focus only on the athletes," Balich said.

"That (pandemic) of course has consequences. Mass choreography is not happening obviously, because of COVID-19," he said.

"The number in Rio was 12,600 athletes and officials at the parade. I fear there will be fewer this time. That already gives a serious distance between the athletes in the stadium," said Balich, who also produced the ceremony for Turin's 2006 winter Olympics among others.

"The Japanese team have to fight between how to promote their aesthetic and combine the fears and concerns associated with the Olympic Games and the infections and the disease."

There is widespread concern among the public over the safety of holding the global sporting spectacle amid the pandemic and many Japanese fear the Olympics could turn into a super-spreader event.

"I think the great achievement of the creative team of this ceremony is that they have managed to accept the empty seats as a fact and still retain a focus on the athletes," Balich said.

"It will be very meaningful, far from the grandiosity of previous ceremonies. The moment is now. It is a beautiful effort. A very truthful, honest ceremony, nothing fake. Not smoke and mirrors. It will be about real stuff happening."

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Story first published: Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 12:48 [IST]
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