Only 30 British athletes expected to attend Olympics opening ceremony

Only 30 Team GB athletes are expected to march in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday as coronavirus fears continue to cause frayed nerves in the Japanese capital.

On the day that a Chilean taekwondo player and a Dutch skateboarder became the first participants to be ruled out of the Games due to positive tests, the numbers willing to leave the relative security of the Olympic Village continue to dwindle.

Upwards of 200 British athletes are currently resident in the Village, and while many prefer not to attend the ceremony due to early competition schedules, the PA news agency understands that others have made the decision due to Covid concerns.

Flags and banners hang from Great Britain team apartments in the Olympic Village
Flags and banners hang from Great Britain team apartments in the Olympic Village (Charlie Riedel/AP)

The development leaves a dwindling pool of those eligible to carry the British flag at the ceremony. Two athletes – one male and one female – will be selected for the joint honour by the British Olympic Association on Thursday.

Fewer than 1,000 VIPs will be present for the ceremony at the 68,000 capacity Tokyo Olympic Stadium, with a string of heads of major corporations such as Toyota and Panasonic announcing publicly that would withdraw, citing concerns over the public perception of the Games.

Japanese media have reported that Emperor Naruhito will be present at the Games, but will pointedly refrain from using the word “celebrate”. The imperial family is not expected to attend events once the Games get fully under way on Saturday.

Andy Murray lead Team GB at the 2016 opening ceremony in Tokyo
Andy Murray lead Team GB at the 2016 opening ceremony in Tokyo (Martin Rickett/PA)

The stripped-back ceremony has been hit by a series of controversies, with its original director Hiroshi Sasaki forced to quit in March after proposing plus-size model Naomi Watanabe come down from the sky dressed in a pig costume.

This week, Keigo Oyamada, the composer for the ceremony, was also forced to resign after admitting making public comments about having previously abused disabled class-mates.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo 2020 organising committee, said: “This issue has hurt so many people and I have to offer my apology to those people for the fact that an appropriate and prompt response was delayed. This is something that I’ve got to apologise for to all people.”