The U.S. and France are breaking tradition.
The Summer Olympics kick off in Tokyo with a highly-anticipated opening ceremony on Friday, July 23. The event represents the start of the Olympic Games with a lengthy procession where representatives of participating countries march with their flags. While the order of countries at the 2021 Olympics opening ceremony is traditionally ordered alphabetically as determined by how the countries are spelled in the host country’s language, you can expect the procession to look a little different this year. Here’s why you won’t see Team USA walking out at its normal time.
The Summer Olympics in 2021, run until Aug. 8, will start like always with the opening ceremony. This year’s theme is “united by emotion.” While this year’s ceremony will be a little different due to the ongoing pandemic (for one, spectators have been banned from most events), viewers can still watch the procession unfold via their TVs.
Historically, the parade is in alphabetical order according to the language of the host country. No matter where the games are hosted, Greece always starts the procession to honor it as the birthplace of the Olympics, and the host country is the last to enter. This year’s opening ceremony pretty much sticks to these traditions other than a few changes. This year, 205 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team will be competing.
Flag-bearers Anna Korakaki and Lefteris Petrounias will start off the festivities when Greece enters first like always. The Refugee Team will come out next, marking a change from 2016, when the Refugee Team athletes walked second to last in the procession ahead of the host country, Brazil.
After the Refugee Team, the rest of the teams will follow in katakana order based on the countries’ names in Japanese, starting with Iceland and Ireland, but with two major exceptions. For the first time ever in the opening ceremony, the countries that will host the next two Olympic Games in 2024 and 2028 — France and the United States, respectively — will march immediately before the host nation Japan enters. The U.S. team will enter first (represented by Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez), and France will follow. Lastly, Japan will close out the parade as the games’ host.
When watching the procession, you might notice that, due to sanctions from the World Anti-Doping Agency, Russia will not be using its flag or name during the parade. Instead, they’ll be competing under the acronym ROC and wearing the Russian Olympic Committee flag. In addition, it will be the first time that North Macedonia (which was officially renamed in 2019 and previously competed under the title of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) will be marching with its new name.
The Summer Olympics are happening amidst great scrutiny as Japan is under a state of emergency, vaccination rates in the country are low, and positive COVID-19 cases among Olympic athletes continue to rise. Relatedly, there will be fewer athletes at the opening ceremony due to some arriving as close to competition time as possible, but the flag procession will go on.
NBC will broadcast the opening ceremony at 7 a.m. ET and 7:30 p.m. ET on July 23, as well as on 12:35 a.m. ET on July 24, so you can take your pick of when you want to tune in.