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As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony kickstars tomorrow, what can we expect from the biggest sporting event in the world in the midst of a pandemic?

It’s been five years since the Olympic flame was exchanged from Brazil to Japan, with the opening ceremony set to take place at 8pm local time in Tokyo, airing in the UK at midday and 7am in Eastern time zone in the United States with a 13 hour difference.The second time Tokyo has hosted the Summer Olympics since 1964, this year’s games mark the 32nd Olympiad.

Chaos at the start line for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics 

But the Tokyo 2020 Olympics hasn’t exactly got off to the smoothest start. The year delay aside, athletes have been disqualified and the discrimination against female athletes has been palpable; from Namibian sprinters Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi prohibited from participating due to having naturally high testosterone levels to Sha’Carri Richardson’s exclusion for positive THC testing. Then of course the controversy over Norway’s women’s beach ball team faced intense scrutiny as they opted to wear shorts rather than bikinis which later resulted in a fine for not meeting organization requirements.

While there’s a sense of global excitement of pre-pandemic events returning and the comeback of the largest sporting event of the planet, there’s no denying the sense of sadness attached to this year’s games, not only for the continuous fight for women’s equality in sport but the lack of physical support from fans throughout the games.

Staging an ceremony to an empty audience 

Officials have estimated around 11,500 athletes are expected in Japan to compete across 42 venues, while another estimated 79,000 journalists, officials and staff are also expected to be in attendance. But with the virus still rife, the entry of spectators from all sporting events has been prohibited following the urgent increase in COVID cases with the rise of the Delta variant in early July leaving the country to declare a public health emergency. 

What can be expected from an opening ceremony during a pandemic? It’s not quite clear yet, with the performance under wraps until tomorrow. Staged in Japan’s New National Stadium in Shinjuku City amongst Tokyo’s skyscrapers. The three-tiered complex, costing $1.5 billion designed by Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma renowned for a design philosophy merging nature and architecture, was due to seat 68,000 people throughout the games. Instead, an audience of 10,000 diplomats, foreign dignitaries, sponsors and members of the International Olympic Committee will be the only viewers in attendance.

The return of Olympic Gold 

Despite the conspicuously open stadium and the cultural oddity behind this year’s games, fans across the world can look forward to the return of Simone Biles, Joshua Cheptegei, Novak Djokovic, Jade Jones, Laura Kenny, Tom Daley and Teddy Rinner. Four new sports will also make their debut at the Olympics with karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing and the reappearance of baseball and softball since their last appearance in 2008. 

Drawing to close on Sunday 8th August around 8m local time, events will continue to run up until the last day of the games with a brief interlude before the start of the Paralympics on Tuesday 24th August. It’s certainly not the usual kind of Summer Olympics that the world watches in awe, but it’s a testament to the resilience of the athletes who have remained resilient throughout the past year, deserving of a stage to showcase it. It hasn’t begun yet, and who knows what’s going to happen, but it’s clear already from the offset, win or lose, crowd or not, there’s some serious lessons to be learned.

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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.