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The ambition is to make millions of television watchers around the world gasp and get their jaws dropping.

The Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremony is a chance for the host country to show off the best of its culture, introduce the competing countries and athletes and generally get everyone in the mood for a sporting event that brings the world together.

Except Tokyo’s Opening Ceremony is mired in controversy after both the director and composer of the show stepped down from their positions.

Director Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed Thursday following past comments that “ridiculed the painful facts of history,” according to Tokyo 2020 organizers. Local media reports said he made anti-Semitic comments in a 1998 comedy act about the Holocaust.

Kobayashi later apologized for his comments in a statement.

“Indeed, as pointed out, in the video software that was released in 1998 to introduce young comedians, a skit script I wrote contained an extremely inappropriate expression,” the comedian added.

“I understand that my foolish choice of words at the time was a mistake, and I regret it,” Kobayashi said, adding that he was grateful he was able to be involved in the ceremony.

Earlier this week, the composer for both the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2020 Olympics. – Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada – announced his intention to step down after old interviews of bullying behavior resurfaced.

Oyamada – who is also known by the stage moniker Cornelius – has faced a social media backlash after comments made in the 1990s with Japanese magazine Rockin’On Japan recently began circulating online. In the comments, he described abusing fellow classmates with apparent disabilities while at school.

A general view over the National Stadium in Tokyo.
Kiichiro Sato/AP
A general view over the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Putting on a show

In 2012, Academy Award winning film director Danny Boyle created an Opening Ceremony which featured David Beckham in a boat, red double-decker buses and even Queen Elizabeth II jumping out a helicopter with James Bond.

In 2016, Rio’s Opening Ceremony was bright and vibrant in a celebration of Brazil’s multiculturalism and culture, with segments dedicated to climate change and conservation.

Now it’s time for Tokyo and Japan to put on a show for the watching world.

The Opening Ceremony for this year’s Summer Games – which were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic – will take place on July 23 in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.

Usually held in a stadium full of ecstatic fans, this year’s ceremony will have athletes from across the globe parading in a near empty venue after it was announced that fans would not be allowed to attend because of rising Covid-19 cases in Japan.

The Olympic cauldron is lit during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Paul Sancya/AP
The Olympic cauldron is lit during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“The most difficult part of the process was that the postponement meant a simplification of the ceremonies and the message had to be drastically revised,” said Takayuki Hioki, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee executive producer of ceremonies.

“After nearly five years of planning, we found ourselves suddenly having to rethink everything. This was the biggest challenge,” said Hioki.

Due to restrictions, only a select number of officials and some dignitaries will be present for the Friday’s ceremony.

Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony: Number of participants per country

SOUTH KOREA

  • 26 athletes at Opening Ceremony
  • Flag bearers: Hwang Sun-woo and Kim Yeon-koug
  • Total members of team: 354 (232 of which are athletes)

CANADA

  • Approx 30 to 40 athletes at Opening Ceremony
  • Flag Bearers: Miranda Ayim and Nathan Hirayama
  • Total members of team: 370

INDIA

  • 50 members at Opening Ceremony (athletes and officials)
  • Total members of India Team at the Games: 228 (119 of which are athletes)

AUSTRALIA

  • Approximately 50 members at Opening Ceremony (athletes and officials)
  • Total members team: 472 athletes (total members unavailable)

Tokyo 2020 spokesman Hidemasa Nakamura told CNN that about 950 VIPs will take part in the event. The total will include around 800 foreign guests and 150 from Japan, CNN affiliate TV Asahi reported.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, who will declare the Olympics open at the ceremony, will be attending without any other member of the imperial family, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

The agency says that the decision was made in keeping with the plans for other Olympic officials who are also attending unaccompanied by their spouses.

With all the struggles and difficulties that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced to stage the Games in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, president Thomas Bach believes it will be a moment of “joy and relief.”

“I think It will be a moment of joy and relief when entering the stadium,” Bach said during a press conference.

“A moment of joy in particular for the athletes because I know how much they’re longing for this moment. They can finally be there and can enjoy this moment under very special circumstances. And a feeling of relief because the road to this Opening Ceremony was not the easiest one.”

However as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Tokyo, there will be notable absentees on Friday. Japanese car manufacture Toyota has confirmed its CEO, Akio Toyoda, will not be attending the opening ceremony.

“The motto of the Tokyo 2020 Games is “United by Emotion,” added Hioki.

“We spent a lot of time and energy struggling and what we came up with was ‘achieving personal best,’ ‘unity in diversity,’ ‘connecting to tomorrow’; in other words, the Games vision.

“We have created something with a strong message that will resonate with the audience. It’s more about the emotional connection than the excitement.

“We took the athletes very seriously. We had to make sure the athletes who finally have come from abroad don’t feel anxious, and yet we want them to be energised and ready for competition.”

Marco Balich, a former opening ceremonies executive producer and now a senior advisor to the Tokyo ceremony, told Reuters that Friday’s event will be a “sobering” ceremony.

“Nevertheless with beautiful Japanese aesthetics. Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality,” said Balich, who was in charge of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The Tokyo2020 Twitter account on Wednesday tweeted a sneak peak of what to expect at Friday’s event, teasing a 30-second clip of an orchestra playing music, a drone, and choreographed dancing.

Toyoda runs with the Olympic torch during the Tokyo Olympic Games Torch Relay.
Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images
Toyoda runs with the Olympic torch during the Tokyo Olympic Games Torch Relay.

Carrying the flag

Bearing your country’s flag as you and your fellow athletes make their way into a stadium for an opening ceremony is one of the greatest honors bestowed on any Olympian.

For Team USA, four-time Olympic basketball gold medalist Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez have been given that honor after they were named as their country’s flag bearers for the opening ceremony, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced Wednesday.

“It’s an incredible honor to be selected the flag bearer for Team USA,” said Bird in a statement. “I know what that means because I got to witness Dawn Staley go through it when she was selected in 2004.

“It’s an honor that is bigger than the moment in that you’ve been selected by your fellow Team USA athletes to represent the entire delegation, and it will last forever.”

Bird and Alvarez were voted as flag bearers by Team USA athletes. The opening ceremony on Friday will mark the first time the US delegation will have two flag-bearers.

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A split of Bird and Alvarez.
NBAE/Getty Images
A split of Bird and Alvarez.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be named as one of the flag bearers by my fellow Team USA athletes for the Opening Ceremony,” said Alvarez.

“Being a first-generation Cuban-American, my story represents the American Dream. My family has sacrificed so much for me to have the opportunity to wave this flag proudly.

“I am grateful for my time with US Speedskating and USA Baseball, as well as for all of my teammates, and I am humbled to lead Team USA into the Tokyo Olympic Games.”

For Team GB, Olympic champions Hannah Mills and Mohamed Sbihi have been selected as the team’s flagbearers for Friday’s opening ceremony.

Sailor Mills and rower Sbihi will both be defending their Olympic titles they won four years ago in Rio.

Junko Ogura, Chie Kobayashi, Gawon Bae, Chandler Thornton contributed to this report.

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