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What Will an Opening Ceremony Without Spectators Look Like?

Here's everything we know about Friday's official commencement for the Tokyo Olympics.
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The opening ceremony is here, and, as you probably have guessed, it’s going to be strange. NBC will broadcast the spectacle live at 7 a.m. ET on Friday. By the time you open this newsletter, some of you may have already seen it. Many more will settle in to watch the replay in prime time.

The ceremony has already had its share of controversy for reasons that have nothing to do with the pandemic. A few days ago, a composer whose music is part of the ceremony was fired after a story came to light of “his abusing a child with disabilities.” On Thursday, the day before the event, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee fired the director when a joke he had made about the Holocaust during a 1998 comedy show resurfaced.

And, of course, it was bound to be strange enough. The event will already be muted. One organizer told Reuters it will be “sobering.” Do not tune in expecting elaborate choreography and large groups of dancers like we’ve seen in the past. This is a very good thing, in my opinion. As we have been over this week, the Olympics are taking place despite many, many people not wanting them to. Given all that, it would be extremely misguided to turn this into a grandiose celebration.

Plus, there won’t even be any fans in the stands to be entertained. And as anyone who has ever taken a video of a fireworks show on their phone can attest: It’s never as good on video as in person.


So who is this show for?

One thing I think about each Olympics is that for many athletes, the opening ceremony really is the reward. The overwhelming majority of athletes at the Games will not win medals. Many won’t come close. But being an Olympian, and getting to say that you’re an Olympian, is still cool as hell!

Yes, these are all competitive athletes and we assume they all lay their heads on the pillow each night thinking about winning gold and standing on that podium. But many, many athletes arrive at the Olympics knowing their odds of medaling are slim. For countless athletes, the Olympic experience itself is the prize. The dream is to qualify and make it there. To march in the parade, waving their country’s flag for everyone back home to see on TV.

I think U.S. sports fans probably take it for granted that our country will send a gigantic delegation and will compete for medals in many sports. Many athletes are just happy to be included. Some athletes, all they wanted was to get there.

So I’m glad they still get that experience. To walk around and be honored. To have friends, family and countrymen (and women) back home who see someone represent them.

And the rest of us don’t need an ostentatious display that ignores the reality of the country they currently find themselves in.


I mentioned in my introduction Monday that I’d love to hear from you so we can experience these Olympics together. I already got some great questions, so I’ll answer two now.

From Nuke: Can you do a rundown on what sports are gone, what sports are new and what sports are exhibition?

Yes, I can! I suggest everyone check out Thursday’s newsletter, in which I previewed every sport. (I know this email was written before that was published.) That has a rundown on the new sports: 3x3 basketball, baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing and surfing. Plus, I mentioned several new events within different sports, like freestyle BMX, mixed doubles table tennis, the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle swim, the mixed relay triathlon, etc. There are many of those.

As for sports that no longer exist: Every sport from 2016 is back. The changes are just certain events or weight classes within sports. For example, Thursday I mentioned the men’s two-person kayak slalom.

Great question on exhibition sports. For those who don’t know, the Olympics have a history of staging demonstration sports. They are not actual Olympic events, but governing bodies of the sports want to benefit from some added exposure. Just like when Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, there will be a sumo demonstration this year. It’s on August 12 and 13, which originally would have been great for spectators who were still in town for the Olympics. Things have obviously changed now that the stadiums will be empty for the actual Olympics. But I’m hoping there will be more information about how to watch it as we get a little closer.

From Howard Tilman: This is the first Summer Olympics with easily accessible online gambling in much of the U.S. So is Olympic gambling a thing? Can you gamble on individual events? Matches? Races? Medal counts? Not sure of what’s legal and what’s a good way to get into it all.

Another great question. Gambling has become more of an unavoidable topic within sports since so many more states have legalized it. The short answer to your question is that yes, gambling on the Olympics is very much a thing. I remember a lot of people talking about this during the London Games in 2012, because of how easy it was to gamble over there at the time. And here in the U.S., people have always wanted to bet on sports and now a growing number seems to want to do it all the time.

I assume most of the people who are gambling on their phones while watching the events are using sites like DraftKings or FanDuel. Both are offering the chance to bet on individual events. You can go to DraftKings and bet on karate, weightlifting or rowing right now if you want. Whether you desire to bet on who will win gold in soccer, or who will win individual soccer game, this will be just like any other international tournament.

I checked in with old pal (and former SI gambling editor) Ben Heisler on this, and he noted that WynnBET posted overall medal count props approximately 30 seconds after we got off the phone.

If you are used to betting already, it won’t be hard to find ways to do it. Ben also believes that the offshore books will have more of the fun/wacky/obscure prop bets, just like you’d see around Super Bowl time.

Thanks for those questions, and I’d love to get more. Please send me tweets, Facebook messages or emails. Comments are fine too!


Friday night and Saturday morning, all times ET.

They are giving out medals on Saturday!


Shooting: Women’s 10m Air Rifle will be the first medal of the Games, at 7:45 p.m. Friday. The men’s 10m air pistol final is at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Cycling: The men’s cycling road race starts at 8 p.m. Friday. I haven’t seen an expected finish time, but this event has taken at least 5 1/2 hours in recent Olympics, and the TV coverage on USA ends at 2 a.m. Saturday.

Weightlifting: Women’s 49kg at 12:50 a.m. Saturday.

Archery: Mixed team competition begins at 8:30 p.m. Friday, with medal rounds at 3:25 a.m. Saturday.

Judo: A full day of competition concludes with medal matches some time after 4 a.m. Saturday, but no one from Team USA is in action.

Fencing: Women’s épée and men’s sabre are on overnight, with medal bouts starting at 6:50 a.m. Saturday.

Team USA

The 3x3 basketball debut is at 4:55 a.m. Saturday against France, with another game at 8 a.m. against Mongolia.

USA women’s water polo plays its first game against Japan at 1 a.m. Saturday.

USA softball plays Mexico at 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

The USWNT looks to rebound from the loss to Sweden against New Zealand at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

Men’s beach volleyball: 8 a.m. Saturday against the Netherlands.

Men’s indoor volleyball: USA vs. France at 8:45 a.m. Saturday.

Singles table tennis: Women’s Juan Liu at 8 p.m. Friday; Men’s: Nikhil Kumar at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

Men’s doubles badminton: 10 p.m. Friday against China.

Tennis: Everyone’s in action, but start times are dependent on matches on the court before them.

Swimming: Heats begin Saturday, just after 7 a.m. The first medals will be awarded Saturday night. I will talk to you again before then.


ICYMI: My colleague Dan Gartland and I drafted teams in a handful of sports where the U.S. didn’t qualify.

Men’s handball: I have adopted Norway, which plays the opening game at 8 p.m. Friday. Dan Gartland has Sweden, which plays at 1:15 a.m. Saturday.

Men’s field hockey: My Aussies play Japan at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Dan has India at 7:45 a.m. Saturday.

SI’s Best

As a reminder, this newsletter is free if you sign up to receive it in your inbox. You can also subscribe to for unlimited access to all the other great stories on our site.

• First impressions from our team of writers on the ground in Tokyo

• The Games Go On—With a New Purpose: Greg Bishop SI Daily Cover from Friday

• Michael Rosenberg’s dispatch from a Japan men’s soccer game: "It felt like somebody unplugged the Olympics."

• SI’s Meet Team USA package is great prep for everything to come

And now we’re off! Thanks for reading.