TOKYO – It will be an opening ceremony like no other.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally begin on Friday, having retained their name but little else in the year since they were delayed by Covid-19.
The Games will always begin in the shadow of this pandemic, with the Japanese capital in a state of emergency and many residents of the country categorically opposing the holding of the global sporting event.
However, Japan has bet its international reputation on the success of these Olympics, despite the coronavirus and the various scandals that have dominated the previous weeks and months.
“Over 4 billion people around the world will watch these Olympic Games,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told NBC News ahead of the ceremony. “In this context, overcoming the difficulties of the coronavirus and being able to organize the Games, I think there is real value in that.
Instead of a crowd of 68,000 cheering athletes from over 200 countries marching with flags through the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, less than a thousand foreign dignitaries and diplomats, Olympic sponsors and members of the International Olympic Committee will be in attendance. at the official start of the Games.
Emperor of Japan Naruhito will be among the guests, as will First Lady Jill Biden.
The rest of the world, including the Japanese public, will watch and cheer on TV or via streaming services.
NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the rights to broadcast the Games in the United States.
The opening ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. local Japanese time. With the time difference – Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the eastern US, 16 hours ahead of the West – Americans who want to watch it live will have to get up early.
NBC’s live coverage in the United States will begin at approximately 6:55 a.m. ET. And the ceremony will be rebroadcast in prime time at 7:30 p.m. ET and once again overnight.
Follow NBC News’ Olympics coverage throughout the Games
Viewers will be treated to an extravagant recreation of a traditional Japanese festival, featuring hundreds of artists participating in a tightly choreographed and well-rehearsed national pride display, organizers said.
The traditional pomp and pageantry that accompanies the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, symbolizing the start of the Games, will literally be a television event due to the unusual circumstances of these most unusual games.
After the release of doves signifying peace, a spectacular fireworks display will light up the Tokyo sky.
For the first time in Olympic history, each nation will be allowed to have two standard bearers – a man and a woman – for the traditional Parade of Nations.
American basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez will carry the star-spangled banner.
But there will be no applause in the stadium for them, nor for the last torchbearer, Japanese kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro VI, when he performs what is called the “torch kiss” and lights up the cauldron.
It will symbolize the opening of the first major global gathering since Covid-19 began its march, infecting nearly 200 million people and killing more than 4 million worldwide.
Epidemics and setbacks
The pandemic consumed much of the preparation for the Games, which also had to deal with the fallout from a series of scandals.
Last Thursday, on the eve of the opening ceremony, its creative director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired for a joke he made about the Holocaust on a comedy show in 1998. His predecessor had been ousted from the months earlier for comparing a Japanese celebrity to a pig.
Composer Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada also resigned earlier this week after admitting he had bullied disabled classmates resurfaced and that his music was removed from the opening ceremony score.
The Olympic torch began its 121-day journey to the stadium in March from Fukushima Prefecture, an area devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors that left some 22,000 dead or missing .
This ceremony was also closed to the public due to fear of spreading the Covid.
As the first torchbearer, Japanese football star Azusa Iwashimizu ran out of a training facility with 14 other members of the team that won the Women’s World Cup in 2011.
She also carried with her the hope that the pandemic would now be tamed, if not contained.
But in an ominous sign of things to come, fans along the route in Japan’s 47 prefectures have been warned to wear masks, practice social distancing and refrain from loud cheers to avoid infecting them. torch bearers running.
Now fans have been completely banned from the sites.
Over the past few weeks, Japanese leaders and Olympic organizers have watched with concern the continued rise in Covid cases and polls have shown stubborn resistance across much of the country to holding the Games in Tokyo.
This prompted Toyota, Japan’s largest automaker and a key Olympic sponsor, to pull back Japanese TV commercials related to the Games for fear of alienating its local market. Its top executives will not appear at the opening ceremony, although the company remains the supplier of the official vehicles used in Tokyo.
Despite repeated assurances from Japanese officials and Olympic organizers that the Games would be “safe and secure,” dozens of people linked to the competition – including a dozen athletes – have already tested positive for Covid.
Two other athletes staying in the Olympic Village, a 109-acre waterfront section of Tokyo that had been cordoned off to protect the approximately 11,000 competitors staying there, tested positive on Thursday.