Olympic Opening Ceremonies 2021: Complete Guide to Watch and Follow the Event

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2021

People wearing a protective masks pass by National Stadium, where the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be held in less than two weeks is seen in the background Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

After a year's postponement and amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, it's hard to believe that a little more than 11,000 athletes around the globe are descending on Tokyo for the Olympics, with the opening ceremony set for Friday. 

But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo organizers have pushed through, and on Friday they have an opportunity with the opening ceremony to set a tone for the Games that can address the hardships the world and residents of Japan have faced. Not everyone will be able to support the Games going on—a survey released in Japan in May suggested 83 percent of residents opposed the Games being staged this summer—but going on they are.

Some look to the Olympics as an event to bring the world together again and help heal from the scars of the last year, but the effect it will have on the ongoing pandemic remains to be seen. 

Even the opening ceremony has not been without controversy. Composer Keigo Oyamada, who was on the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics creative teams, resigned from his position after reports surfaced that he had bullied classmates with disabilities in school.

The theme of the opening ceremony is "Moving Forward," and while COVID-19 is still top of mind for many in Japan, others may welcome the opportunity to celebrate their national athletes, many of whom are expected to bring home medals. (Nielsen's Gracenote estimates Japan's total medal haul at 60.)

Below you'll find all the information you'll need to know to tune in and follow along to the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony. 


Olympic Opening Ceremony TV and Live-Stream Info

Date: Friday, July 23

Time: 7 a.m. EST

Rebroadcast: 7:30 p.m. EST

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: Peacock, NBCOlympics.com


Parade of Nations

The Parade of Nations is perhaps the most well-known aspect of the Olympic opening ceremony. Olympic tradition dictates the order of entry; Greece, home of the first Olympics, always enters first. Greece will be followed by the Refugee Olympic Team.

Then teams will enter based on Japanese alphabet order, not English. But if you're keeping an eye out for Team USA, you'll have to wait nearly until the end of the program. Japan, as host, enters last. But for the first time ever, the hosts of the next two Summer Olympics, France and the U.S., will enter near the end of the procession just before Japan.

The U.S. athletes will wear uniforms designed by Ralph Lauren, as they have in the past. MLB infielder Eddy Alvarez and WNBA guard Sue Bird have been chosen as the USA flag bearers. This is the first year each country may have both a male and female flag bearer. 

#TokyoOlympics @NBCOlympics

A 4-time Olympic gold medalist and one of only a few Summer and Winter Olympians, this year’s flag bearers have quite the list of accomplishments. #TokyoOlympics https://t.co/JcGfwJbGVC

Reuters reported Thursday that Team Canada will send only a very small contingent of its athletes, around 30 to 40, to march in the Parade of Nations, as athletes are arriving with little time to prepare for their events. 


Artistic Program

The Parade of Nations typically gets the most airtime during the Olympics. But the opening ceremony is also when the host nation puts on an artistic program to convey its culture and history as well as chosen themes. With everything surrounding these Olympics, from COVID-19 to social justice movements, Japan’s artistic program will have a lot to grapple with.

According to the Tokyo Organizing Committee, the themes of this Games include peace, coexistence, reconstruction, future, Japan and Tokyo, athletes, involvement and excitement. As no spectators will be allowed at Japan National Stadium for the opening ceremony, this year's program will involve segments that were performed or filmed remotely for the first time.

These spectacles are often known for colorful costumes, choreographed dances and displays of culture and technology. However, per Reuters' Karolos Grohmann, Tokyo's performance will be "sobering" and not flashy.  

"It will be a much more sobering ceremony," Marco Balich, a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremonies executive producer, said. "Nevertheless with beautiful Japanese aesthetics. Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality."

#TokyoOlympics @NBCOlympics

We're ready to pass the torch again. Follow and watch Passing the Torch with @Swiftor now on @Twitch: https://t.co/4fChtz93Px https://t.co/5lL7nu3uzX

The opening ceremony will also highlight the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame and the releasing of the doves. Finally, Japanese Emperor Naruhito will then officially open the Games. 



Things may be a little quiet at Japan National Stadium during the ceremony. 

According to the Japan Times, fewer than 1,000 spectators may be in attendance in the 68,000-seat stadium. Given the recently declared state of emergency in Tokyo, there are no local spectators allowed in the stadium, and even some of the foreign dignitaries who were expected to attend have since pulled out. 

We do know some of the world leaders who will be in attendance, French President Emmanuel Macron, Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrai Oyun-Erdene and First Lady of the United States Jill Biden. Also present will be Olympic sponsors and International Olympic Committee officials.